Normally, at this stage of the week, I would give you five things to watch in Arizona’s game. Today, only three.
Don’t feel cheated. We’ve hit on the big themes through the week; they were too important to wait.
We have already discussed the Wildcats’ copper helmets, the need for Matt Scott’s hip to be healthy enough to allow him to be a threat running the ball, and Oregon State’s dominance over Arizona in terms of stopping the run.
Those are three things. Here are three more. That’s six. It’s like getting a bonus item to watch.
1. Oregon State’s passing game
Sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion (6-5, 212) is another big, strong-armed pocket passer for the Beavers, whose pro-style game is different than what Arizona has seen so far this season.
Typical in any system, but especially true in coach Mike Riley’s scheme, Oregon State quarterbacks seems to blossom in their second season as the starter. Looks true for Mannion. Interception-prone last season (one of about every 26 pass attempts was picked off), he has thrown been intercepted only once in 82 tries this season.
Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks are the best pair of wideouts Arizona will see this season outside of USC.
Cooks, a sophomore, is one of the emerging stars in the conference, with 12 catches for 255 yards and two touchdowns in two games. Wheaton has 17 catches for 237 yards and one score.
Wheaton, from Chandler High, likes to play in his home state. He had seven catches for 113 yards and a touchdown at Arizona in 2010 and 11 receptions for 116 yards at ASU last season.
Cooks and Wheaton have sprinter’s speed, the fastest pair of receivers Arizona has seen this year.
“They are very explosive off the ball,” said Arizona sophomore cornerback Jonathan McKnight. “When they catch the ball, they are hard to tackle. That’s the main thing we’ve got to do. After the catch, we’ve just got to get them on the ground.”
Arizona would like to get Mannion on the ground, but the Wildcats have only three sacks. Mannion could sit back comfortably and pick apart the UA defense.
2. Penalties and turnovers
Pretty basic? Sure. We just wanted to use this opportunity to throw a couple of stats at you.
Here’s one: Arizona leads the nation in opponent’s penalty yards. Kind of obscure, but who are we are to ignore a trend? All those free yards add up, and Oregon State is among the country’s worst in number of penalties (8.5 per game) and penalty yards (82.5 per game).
Perhaps this OSU will be as undisciplined as another OSU to play at Arizona Stadium this season. Oklahoma State lost its cool in committing 15 fouls for 167 yards.
Arizona’s four opponents have committed an average of 10.3 penalties for 103.5 yards per game.
As for turnovers, consider the Mike Stoops years. He went 2-6 vs. Oregon State. When the Cats lost or tied the turnover battle, they always fell to the Beavers. The two times they won the turnover battle coincided with the two times they won.
3. The red zone
As you know, Arizona whiffed in six trips inside the Oregon red zone last week. Rodriguez said he doesn’t have many personnel options, although 260-pound fullback Taimi Tutogi would seem to be a reasonable short-yardage choice.
But the senior has only one carry this season and doesn’t figure to have an increased role as a rusher because of his double-duty as a third-down defensive end.
“Can he play 35 plays on defense and play another 40 on offense? He isn’t ready for that,” Rodriguez said. “His defense has limited him on offense. It goes into my thought about how much of a role he has offensively, but he is a pretty good pass rusher. We need him on the edges of the defense.”
In a game expected to be close — Arizona is about a 3-point favorite — the Wildcats are simply going to have to find ways to use what they have more efficiently.
Good news (I guess): They are getting lots of practice.
Only one team, Florida State, has been in the red zone more than Arizona. The Seminoles have 30 drives inside their opponents’ 20; the Cats have 28.
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Here is a breakdown and prediction from Fox Sports’ Petros Papadakis: