(Here is a story from Gary Horowitz of the Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal, one of our Gannett partners. For coverage of the Arizona’s opponent this week, check out the Statesman Journal’s Oregon Ducks’ page.)
By Gary Horowitz
EUGENE — Oregon has already played a night game this season at Autzen Stadium, but Saturday’s matchup will be different.
Not only is it the Pac-12 opener for the third-ranked Ducks, but No. 22 Arizona is sure to offer more competition than Arkansas State did under the lights in the season opener.
Expect an electric atmosphere for the nationally televised game on ESPN.
“It’s just a different feeling at night having the lights down on you,” linebacker Michael Clay said. “It’s a chill down the spine that you really don’t feel anywhere else.”
Of course, there is a downside for the Ducks, who will spend the afternoon sequestered at a hotel.
Still, Oregon is happy to be home where it will play to an 86th consecutive sellout.
“You’re in a hotel for so long getting antsy and anxious,” Clay said. “But when you come out, the lights out here, the crowd’s going crazy.”
How the Wildcats react to the environment could be a factor in the game. Arizona, which is among the surprise teams in the Pac-12, will be playing in its first road game.
First-year coach Rich Rodriguez, a former head coach at West Virginia and Michigan, has never taken a team into Autzen.
“It’s one of the most hostile environments in college football and the crowd is into it,” Rodriguez said. “I’m sure with it being a Saturday night and on national TV, it’s going to be loud.”
Oregon has won the past four games in the series and they have been shootouts. With two potent offenses – Oregon is fifth in the nation in scoring (54.0 points per game) and Arizona is 12th (46.3) — it sets up as another high-scoring affair.
Former Arizona quarterback Nick Foles is now a rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles, but Matt Scott could be a better fit for Rodriguez’s spread offense because of his running ability. Scott is fourth in the nation in total offense.
“He’s got speed to beat you, but he’s also a very, very accurate passer,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. “I think he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the country.”
Arizona has already proven itself against a quality opponent with a 59-38 victory against then-No. 18 Oklahoma State in week two.
Despite the Wildcats’ impressive play thus far, they are more than a three-touchdown underdog.
“We don’t even look at that stuff. It doesn’t matter at all,” Oregon wide receiver Keanon Lowe said. “They’re 3-0 just like us and they’re ready to fight.”
Arizona has come a long way since last year’s 4-8 mark that included the dismissal of coach Mike Stoops at midseason.
But do the Wildcats have the ability to contend with the speed of Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas, who is on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated?
Thomas is averaging 17.5 yards per carry, has scored seven touchdowns, and in his last four games counting the 2012 Rose Bowl has touchdown runs of 59, 51, 39, 33, 64 and 91 yards.
“He looks real explosive,” Arizona safety Jared Tevis said. “He has a couple of big plays every game so we just have to contain him and have our defense be disciplined.”
It will be the first Pac-12 game for Oregon redshirt freshman Marcus Mariotta, who has completed 75.3 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and one interception.
The Ducks are 25-2 in league play under Kelly.