NOTE: This is a story from Gary Horowitz in today’s edition of the Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal, one of our Gannett partners. Click on the link to see a video of Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas talking after Monday’s practice.
EUGENE — In terms of hostile environments, playing at Arizona ranks near the top for No. 10 Oregon.
The Ducks rallied for a 44-41 double overtime victory in their last trip to Arizona Stadium in 2009, and offensive guard Carson York vividly remembers the Wildcats’ fans.
“They’re crazy down there,” York said after Monday’s practice. “Any place that tried to throw batteries and Jack Daniels bottles at you when you’re coming out of the locker room, it’s kind of an intimidating place to play sometimes.”
Oregon has won the past three games in the series, but a 34-24 loss in Tucson in 2007 proved costly. The Ducks were ranked No. 2 at the time, and quarterback Dennis Dixon was lost early in the first quarter when he aggravated a knee injury and missed the rest of the season.
Last season the Ducks brought a No. 1 ranking into the game and trailed 19-14 at halftime before pulling away in the second half for a 48-29 win at Autzen Stadium, keeping their unbeaten record and national championship aspirations intact.
“Even though we’ve beat Arizona, they’ve played us competitive each year,” said quarterback Darron Thomas, who threw nine touchdown passes the past two games in routs of Missouri State and Nevada.
“We’ve had a dogfight almost to the end of each game so it’s gonna be a competitive game.”
It will be the Pac-12 conference opener for the Ducks, and their first official road game. The season opener against LSU in Arlington, Texas, was considered a neutral site.
Oregon is 8-1 in conference road games under coach Chip Kelly.
“You have to beat the Pac-12 teams in order to win the Pac-12. It starts this week,” tight end David Paulson said.
Kelly has often said that Monday practices are a barometer for how the entire week sets up.
“If we come out a little sluggish we’ve got to pick it up,” tailback De’Anthony Thomas said. “But today I felt like we came out hard. We’re ready for Arizona.”
Arizona will be playing its third ranked opponent in a row after losses to Oklahoma State and Stanford.
In last year’s game, Arizona quarterback Nick Foles threw for 448 yards and three touchdowns. He figures to have a difficult time duplicating those numbers against a team that ranks 10th nationally in pass defense among the 120 Football Bowl Championship subdivision schools.
Oregon has been vulnerable against the run, allowing an average of 214.3 yards per game (107th in the nation). The Wildcats have struggled on the ground, averaging just 55.7 ypg (116th), so expect Foles to go to the air often.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said free safety Avery Patterson, who led the Ducks with eight tackles Saturday against Missouri State in his first career start. “It’s more opportunities for us to make plays.”