Finally! Conference play kicks off Saturday night in the desert when Oregon travels to Arizona Stadium to take on the Wildcats. In a college football season every game is important, but with the directions these two programs are heading, neither team can afford to lose this game. After falling to LSU in the season opener Oregon has gotten back on track by pummeling Nevada and Missouri State at home. Oregon is a favorite for the Pac-12 title. A slip-up against Arizona would be the second loss of the season and an absolutely crippling blow to a team that opened the season with national title aspirations.
Simply put, Arizona is reeling. They’ve lost seven straight games against FBS teams and have been outscored by 50 points in the last two weeks by top ten programs Oklahoma State and Stanford. This will be Arizona’s third straight game on ESPN and I’ll bet that they’re probably pretty tired of getting beaten silly in front of a national audience. The sledding doesn’t get easier after this game; next week’s match-up has the Wildcats traveling to Southern Cal to face off with the Trojans. They need this game to stop the bleeding and save their season.
Nobody doubts Arizona’s ability to air it out. Fifth year senior Nick Foles is going to put up big numbers in this game. Juron Criner is one of the better WR’s in the country and unless Oregon can get some serious pressure in Foles’ face, (something they haven’t been able to do most of the season) they’re going to have a tough time stopping these two from hooking up.
That’s about where the positives end for the Wildcats. They’re in effect replacing their entire offense line from last season and the results from the new unit haven’t been particularly promising. Stanford managed to record 10 tackles for loss against them last week, and if Oregon’s D line can take advantage of this unit, it’s going to be a very long night for the ‘Cats. So far this season Arizona has had zero semblance of a running game. Senior Keola Antolin has had a tough time finding holes running behind the new line, and also hasn’t seen enough touches to really get going. Freshman Ka’Deem Carey showed off impressive burst in spot duty against Stanford, I’d look for him to get more involved as Arizona looks for ways to be a slightly more balanced offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Arizona’s line lost three starters, with Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed being one of the better DE duos in the nation last season. Their inability to penetrate into the backfield is going to be a serious problem against Oregon’s offense. If Darron Thomas isn’t pressured and Oregon can run their offense without being harassed the Ducks are going to light up the scoreboard like a Christmas tree. Special teams might be Arizona’s weakest point of all. Their kicking game is currently an absolute disaster. I’d be surprised if Stoops attempts a field goal over 35 yards in tomorrow’s game. The ‘Cats aren’t an efficient redzone team because they aren’t a threat to run, and when they can’t punch it in they’ve got a kicker that nobody trusts. Not a good situation.
The way these teams match up really plays into Oregon’s hands. Oregon secondary hasn’t truly been tested this year but they’re currently top ten nationally in pass defense. Oregon’s run D has been atrocious so far but Arizona doesn’t have a running game to speak of. On the other hand, Arizona’s run D checks in at 85th in the country while Oregon’s offense boasts the 8th best rushing attack in the nation.
Arizona has to be demoralized after getting blown out by Stanford and Oklahoma State. I expect them to play better in this one, mainly because they can’t get much worse. We’ve been treated to some wild, entertaining games between these two teams in recent years and while this has the makings of a shootout, there shouldn’t be much doubt about the outcome. Oregon 45-27.