Pac-12 foes Arizona and No. 19 Oregon face off in Arizona Stadium Saturday, Oct. 27th during Homecoming weekend.
It should be a weekend full of celebrations and jubilation amongst Arizona fans of all ages and has a chance of getting rained on by the opponents from the Pacific Northwest.
Oregon comes into this game coming off a blowout loss to Washington State that was televised nationwide, killing any chance the Ducks had of sneaking onto the College Football Playoff field.
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Arizona is also coming off a loss which was not nearly as one-sided as the affair in Pullman, but the one-point loss and the impact it has on the Wildcats’ minds is great, as the loss in the Rose Bowl puts them two games under .500.
This not only eliminates any chance they had at a Pac-12 South crown, it also puts the chances of the Wildcats reaching a bowl game at slim to none with Colorado, Washington State and Arizona State following the Ducks on Arizona’s remaining schedule.
The good news for Arizona fans is that the Wildcats are no strangers to giving the Ducks fits when they least expect it. Dennis Dixon and the No. 2 ranked Ducks walked into Arizona Stadium on a Thursday night in 2007 and were upset by the Mike Stoops-led ‘Cats.
Arizona also beat the Ducks in back-to-back years 2013 and 2014, ending the Ducks’ BCS Title run in 2013, while being the National Championship-bound Ducks’ lone loss in 2014.
Ruining the Ducks’ season isn’t new to Arizona, but this game is slightly different than those in the past. The Ducks have been the Pac-12 bully for the last decade, and the neighborhood bully got punched in the mouth last weekend. If you know anything about bullies, they usually want retaliation, and they usually take it out on the person smaller than them, an easy target that they can take out all their frustration and pent up anger on.
Arizona might just be the punching bag that Mario Cristobal’s team uses to take out the frustration that comes with not meeting the high expectations. Oregon comes in boasting one of the largest and more physical offensive lines in the country, laying the groundwork for their traditionally strong running game while also giving the potential top pick in next year’s NFL Draft, Justin Herbert, enough time to pick apart lesser secondaries while also being a threat with his legs.
The Ducks offense looks like match made in hell for defensive coordinator Marcel Yates’ defense, as they have been borderline allergic to stopping opposing teams on third downs all season. This Ducks team lives on 3rd-and-short situations, forcing teams into submission as they have converted just under 50 percent of their third downs on the season.
The girth up front is an unusual sight in Eugene, as the coaches that preceded Cristobal favored smaller-framed offensive lineman that were mobile and athletic, allowing them to reach the second level on the zone-read plays that has made Oregon the offensive juggernaut the last ten years. Cristobal, the former Miami Hurricane offensive lineman, has already put his webbed foot on this program by making the transition to being more physical up front.
Oregon teams traditionally have struggled with teams with bigger front sevens like Harbaugh’s Stanford teams, as well as the Nick Fairley-led Auburn team and the Joey Bosa-led Ohio State team Oregon lost to in the National Championships in 2011 and 2015, respectively.
Arizona in the past was able to take advantage of the lack of size up front like the teams mentioned above, allowing the Wildcats to make mobile and dynamic quarterbacks like Dennis Dixon and Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota uncomfortable in the pocket.
Even though the defense accounted for an season-high 12 tackles for loss against UCLA, this Oregon team will be prepared and more than capable of stymieing the young defensive front of Arizona.
Another aspect that could hamper Arizona’s upset bid is the current quarterback situation. The Wildcats have used Rhett Rodriguez the last two games to fill in for the one-legged Khalil Tate, and Rodriguez almost lead a comeback in the Rose Bowl but fell just short. If Tate is healthy, he may be ready to be back to be being the electric quarterback that led to Sports Illustrated putting him on the regional cover of their preview issue. I wouldn’t expect it, but the return of the dynamic quarterback could be the exact antidote for a wild game in Tucson in front of the Homecoming crowd.
The bottom line is that Arizona is going to need a couple miracles to pull of the upset this upcoming Saturday. If history has taught us anything, is that the college football gods aren’t afraid to grant a few miracles whenever they feel like it. If the Wildcats want to go toe-to-toe with the Ducks, they are going to needs all the help they can get.
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