Arizona-Oregon: Five things to watchby Anthony Gimino on Sep. 21, 2012, under Arizona football
The Arizona Wildcats have a 40-98-1 record against ranked teams in their history. The percentage falls, naturally, against top 10 teams and dives further against top 10 teams on the road.
Which brings us to Saturday night against third-ranked Oregon in Eugene.
Arizona hasn’t defeated a top 10 team on the road in nearly 20 years. You have to set the wayback machine to Oct. 17, 1992, to find the last time it happened — 21-6 at eighth-ranked Stanford during a Desert Swarm-fueled five-game winning streak.
Those were the defensive days: Arizona held the Cardinal to nine first downs, had eight sacks, broke up five passes and set a school record for rushing yards allowed (minus 33).
Since that day, Arizona is 0-12 against top 10 teams on the road. The Wildcats are 3-26-1 in such games in their history.
Three wins? So you’re saying there’s a chance?
Let’s take a look at five things that should be factors Saturday:
1. Matt Scott
We repeat ourselves every week and will continue to do so because it won’t stop being true: Matt Scott gives the Wildcats a chance.
It’s not just that he’s fourth in the nation in total offense at 395 yards per game and it’s not just that he’s committed only one turnover in three games in a demanding read-option offense.
It’s that the rest of the offense, the rest of the team, is following his chip-on-the-shoulder competitiveness.
“He has so much confidence,” said sophomore receiver Austin Hill. “It kind of comes off of him as an aura.”
Imagine if Rich Rodriguez had inherited Scott at Michigan instead of going into his first season with a walk-on and pocket-passer Steven Threet at quarterback. Able to get off on the right foot, Rodriguez probably would still be at Michigan.
This has been said so often about Scott this season that he should have it stitched across the back of his jersey instead of his name: “Perfect Fit.”
2. Oregon mistakes
Rodriguez’s most direct quote of the week was this:
“There are a lot of things that have to go right for us to win this game. Our guys aren’t going to BS anybody. We’ve got to play really well and hope they play poorly at time and give us a chance. We’re not conceding anything. I’m just saying that’s the way it is.”
Opponent’s mistakes were part of the ingredients for Arizona’s upset of Oklahoma State. The Cowboys committed four turnovers and forget to pack their poise, posting 167 penalty yards, the most ever by an Arizona opponent.
The Ducks have had problems in those areas. They are averaging 9.3 penalties for 81.7 yards per game. And they have committed seven turnovers in three games (Arizona has four giveaways). Even their SI cover boy, running back De’Anthony Thomas, fumbled twice last week.
Of course, one of those came at the end of a 49-yard run.
Anyway, point is, the Ducks have yet to play clean.
3. Arizona’s 3-3-5 defense
Oregon running back LaMichael James ran for a school-record 288 yards vs. Arizona last season, and the Ducks rushed for an astounding 804 yards against the Cats in the past two games.
Those game tapes are kind of worthless now.
“Totally different, totally different,” Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich told reporters this week, comparing Arizona’s new defensive system to the 4-3 of former head coach Mike Stoops. “Couldn’t really be (more) different from a schematic standpoint.”
That’s UA’s hope. The new 3-3-5 of coordinator Jeff Casteel can’t be worse than what Arizona put out there the past couple of seasons. Moreover, this scheme is built for speed over size, to play in space, a good theoretical fit against the Ducks.
And the Cats see this offense every day in practice now.
The 3-3-5 odd stack defense, which often hides the intentions of the linebackers and hybrid safeties, could make it difficult for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to make the proper reads in the read-option offense. We’ll see.
Based just on how it looks on a whiteboard, UA has a chance to have better answers than in recent seasons … but the Ducks’ chess pieces still move faster than the Cats’.
4. Marcus Mariota
The redshirt freshman quarterback has been mostly brilliant so far, but that was against weak competition. This is his first Pac-12 action. It might be a long shot, but perhaps there are some nerves Arizona can jangle.
Mariota has completed 58 of 77 passes for 674 yards, with eight touchdowns and one interception. He ranks 10th nationally — and first in the Pac-12 — in passing efficiency with a rating of 180.54.
“He’s like the perfect quarterback for their system,” Rodriguez said.
“But he can play in any system. He’s fast. He’s one of the fastest guys on the field. But he can throw, too. He has a live arm. For a young guy, he’s playing as well as any quarterback in the country. Really, really impressed with him.”
5. Overcoming adversity
The Ducks are 23-1 at home under coach Chip Kelly, using the most raucous environment on the West Coast to intimidate opponents and make it difficult for them to communicate. Arizona practiced this week with its noise level at practice turned up to 11.
Arizona overcame an early 14-0 deficit against Oklahoma State two weeks ago, but such a hole will be more calamitous at Autzen Stadium. The Cats have shown a promising feisty spirit through three games but will have to keep their poise and confidence through the inevitable gut-punches delivered by the Ducks’ quick-strike offense.
“We know they’re going to win a lot of plays. We just have to keep our poise and just keep playing the next play and see what happens,” Rodriguez said.
“We’re going to face a whole different level of adversity,” he added. “Their attitude has been great, and our guys are pretty realistic. They know what’s out in front of them.”