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The opponent’s view: Ducks look to continue conference road prowess

NOTE: This is an Oregon story from Gary Horowitz of the Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal, one of our Gannett partners. Here is a link for more coverage of the Ducks from the newspaper.

Oregon's LaMichael James headlines an explosive Oregon offense. Photo by Jim Z. Rider-US PRESSWIRE.

EUGENE — As impressive as Oregon looked the past two weeks against Nevada and Missouri State, those lopsided wins come with a caveat.

The competition wasn’t stellar and the 10th-ranked Ducks were playing at Autzen Stadium, where they have won 18 games in a row.

Saturday’s game at Arizona should shed more light on the defending two-time conference champions.

“We’re a good team at home,” coach Chip Kelly said. “What we’ve gotta learn now is how do we play on the road? We lost our road opener.”

Technically, the season-opening loss against LSU in a matchup of top-five teams was a neutral-site game in Arlington, Texas, but the majority of fans at Cowboys Stadium where wearing the Tigers’ purple and gold.

Since Kelly became head coach in 2009, the Ducks are 8-1 in conference road games and 17-1 overall against league opponents.

The last time Oregon played at Arizona Stadium in 2009, the Ducks rallied for a 44-41 double-overtime win. It was a key victory on their way to the Rose Bowl.

In 2007, Oregon brought a No. 2 ranking to Tucson. Quarterback Dennis Dixon suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter, the Ducks lost 34-24, and their national championship aspirations were dashed.

“Arizona has always played us good the last four years,” said quarterback Darron Thomas, who has thrown nine touchdown passes in the past two games. “Even though we’ve beat Arizona (in the past three meetings), they’ve played us competitive each year.”

Last season Arizona led 19-14 at halftime, but then-No. 1 Oregon dominated the second half in a 48-29 win at Autzen to remain unbeaten. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, now a senior, threw for 448 yards and three touchdowns.

The Wildcats will be playing their third top-10 team in as many weeks after losses at Oklahoma State and at home last week against Stanford.

“This has been a perfect storm and we’ve gotta weather it,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. “We’re excited to play Oregon. We don’t even look back on, really, except what you need to improve on, what happened against Oklahoma State or Stanford. Kids are resilient.”

Arizona will need that resiliency against the Ducks, who are favored by 16 points. Tailback LaMichael James is coming off a 204-yard game against Missouri State, and Oregon is the fifth-highest-scoring team in the country, averaging 50.7 points per game.

Since opening the 2010 season with a 7-1 mark, Arizona has lost seven of its past eight games, including all seven matchups against Football Bowl Subdivision schools. It’s a program that appears to be headed in the wrong direction.

“We know they’re hungry,” Oregon rover Eddie Pleasant said. “We know they haven’t won a game all season.”

Actually, the Wildcats beat Northern Arizona. But a win against a lower division team from the Big Sky Conference doesn’t exactly rate as a milestone achievement.

The Wildcats thus far have been one-dimensional, relying heavily on Foles and a strong wide receiver corps led by Juron Criner. Arizona is 116th among the 120 FBS schools in rushing, with an average of 55.7 yards per game.

Oregon has appeared vulnerable against the run (214.3 ypg, 107th nationally) but strong in pass defense (145 ypg, 10th).

Kelly called Foles “one of the top quarterbacks in the country.”

“He’s a great quarterback, potential first rounder (in the NFL draft) someday,” Oregon free safety Avery Patterson said. “We take that as a challenge.”

Stanford defeated Arizona, 37-10, so this should be a good indicator to determine whether Oregon is comparable to the Cardinal at this point in the season.

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