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Arizona-Oregon: Four things to watch

It's been more than a year since Marcus Mariota was intercepted. Photo by Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been more than a year since Marcus Mariota was intercepted. Photo by Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats don’t seem poised for relevance or respect after losing to Washington State, but playing No. 5 Oregon is at least at opportunity for both.

“It’s a huge game on a lot of levels,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said.

“Certainly for them, but for us, too, just to try to get some national respect. And I make a big deal about our seniors’ last home game. … I want them to really enjoy their last home game. It’s a big deal. I tell our seniors, if you’re a college athlete, you always remember your last home game maybe as much or more than anything else in their career.”

The Ducks (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12) are in control of the North division race and will host the conference championship games if they beat Arizona and visiting Oregon State next week. Arizona (6-4, 3-4) is trying to secure a postseason bid.

Here are four things to watch:

1. Marcus Mariota’s knee (and his arm)

The Oregon quarterback says his ailing left knee is “good” — an injury has taken away his running threat in the past two games, when he has lost 34 yards on the ground because of sacks — but Rodriguez is really concerned about his arm.

Mariota has thrown for 25 touchdowns with no interceptions. He has attempted 353 passes without being intercepted, a Pac-12 record streak that goes back more than a year (Nov. 17, 2012).

“A lot of times guys are so wide open, but more than anything, it’s his accuracy,” Rodriguez said.

“A lot of times interceptions come when guys can only get one hand on it or the ball is tipped or something like that. First, he’s making good decisions and secondly, he’s really, really accurate. And then the third thing is that his arm strength is so good that if it is a tight window, he gets it in there.

“That’s why I see he might be the first pick in the draft.”

A healthy Mariota will be trying to make a final Heisman push.

2. Team speed

Rodriguez’s best teams at West Virginia were built on speed and playing fast. His second Arizona team can only hope to play fast.

The Wildcats are a tick faster overall than they were a couple of seasons ago but aren’t as fast as they’ll be with the addition of each new recruiting class. In the meantime, good luck slowing the Ducks.

“We’re not as fast as Oregon. I think they’re probably faster than just about anybody in the country at most positions,” Rodriguez said. “And they’re probably faster than us at every position.”

Being fast leads to big plays.

In Oregon’s five-game winning streak over Arizona, the Ducks have have touchdown plays of 55, 54, 29, 38, 85, 66, 31, 44, 65 and 40 yards.

3. Ka’Deem record watch

Arizona junior Ka’Deem Carey needs 118 yards to break the career rushing record of Trung Canidate (3,824).

Carey has rushed for at least 119 yards in 13 consecutive games, but Oregon is the only team that has held the Wildcats below 100 yards rushing in Rodriguez’s 23 games at UA.

Carey briefly met Canidate, who was a senior in 1999, last year.

“He just said, ‘Stay hungry, stay motivated, go get what you want,’” Carey said. “I just kept that with me. He’s a cool dude.”

Carey, who could very well be playing his final home game at Arizona, desperately wants to break the record today.

4. Ducks defense

The Ducks are, of course, super fast on defense and disguise their scheme very well. Are those blitzing safeties at the line of scrimmage or will they drop into coverage? Eight defenders standing in the box; what will they do?

“They will truly hold a disguise longer than any team I think I have ever seen,” Rodriguez said.

Oregon is allowing 354.8 yards per game, which ranks 25th in the nation. The Ducks are eighth in scoring defense, yielding only 18.2 yards per game.

This is simply a bad matchup for Arizona, which doesn’t have the Stanford power to play keep-away from the Ducks and doesn’t have the threats on the outside that will prevent Oregon from stacking against Carey. Oregon can trust its secondary — led by superb cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu — in one-on-one coverage against the Wildcats, who have struggled against press coverage.

Hard to see the Cats completing a lot of passes down field today, especially in the rain.

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