Eugene, OR (SportsNetwork.com) – The second-ranked Oregon Ducks come out of a
bye week with the undefeated Arizona Wildcats ready to challenge them in a
Pac-12 Conference showdown at Autzen Stadium on Thursday night.
While Oregon is usually undefeated this early in the season, the same cannot
be said for Arizona. The Wildcats have not gone 4-0 since 2010. Doing so
wasn’t easy as it took a last-second Hail Mary from Anu Solomon to Austin Hill
to earn them a 49-45 come-from-behind win over California last time out.
“I think this game showed that no matter how far behind we are, we have the
maturity to pick ourselves up and learn from the mistakes during the game so
we can make big plays and come back to get the win,” Hill said after the
victory. “It was a great team effort tonight.”
Arizona earned itself a week off after the thrilling triumph, giving it plenty
of time to prepare for the Ducks.
Oregon also was idle last weekend following a near disaster at Washington
State on Sept. 20. The Ducks trailed 14-7 at the end of the first quarter and
were never able to really pull away, although they did grind out a 38-31
victory. Like the Wildcats, Oregon is 4-0.
If Arizona hopes to knock off Oregon it will need to pull off something it has
not done since 2006; beat the Ducks at Autzen Stadium. The Wildcats also need
to play much better than they did during last year’s meeting, when Oregon
claimed a 42-16 victory in Tucson. That victory was the 16th in the last 20
matchups for the Ducks, who lead the all-time series, 24-15.
It took every ounce of offensive firepower that Arizona had to knock off
California. Including Solomon’s 47-yard game-winning touchdown pass, the
Wildcats were able to rack up 627 yards of total offense. Perhaps most
interestingly, only 107 yards came on the ground.
Relying more on the pass than the run is not really head coach Rich
Rodriguez’s preference, but the Wildcats are averaging 228 rushing yards and
365.3 through the air. That balance has led Arizona to a league-leading 593.8
total yards per game.
The impressive maturity of Solomon has been a major reason the offense has had
such balance. Just a redshirt freshman, Solomon is completing 62.7 percent of
his pass attempts for 934 yards and eight touchdowns. Additionally, he has
avoided making many mistakes, with only a single interception. Of course he
wouldn’t fit Rodriguez’s system if he couldn’t run as well. Solomon has 121
yards on the ground this season, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
Hill’s game-winning catch was his 15th of the season and third touchdown
reception. He is second on the team in both categories, as well as receiving
yards (263). Cayleb Jones (29 receptions, 475 yards, six TDs) has been the
team’s primary target, with Samajie Grant (14 receptions, 205 yards, TD)
another important piece of the puzzle.
Of course the Wildcats will still run the ball fairly often, giving freshman
Nick Wilson the bulk of the work. Wilson, like Solomon, has been a sturdy
option as a rookie, tallying 482 yards and four touchdowns on 77 carries. He
is second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game.
While Arizona is right at the top of the conference in offensive success, it
still has work to do on defense. The Wildcats are eighth in the league in both
yards allowed (430.5 ypg) and scoring defense (27.3 ppg).
They have their work cut out for them against an Oregon squad that is, and
seemingly always will be, an offensive power. The Ducks may not lead the
Pac-12 in total offense, but they are doing just fine, racking up 555.3 yards
and a league-leading 48.5 points per game.
Keeping everything in place is Marcus Mariota, who by now should be the
favorite on everyone’s Heisman rankings. Mariota has done no wrong this
season, throwing for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns on 74 percent passing. He
has yet to throw an interception on 96 pass attempts, while tallying 214 yards
and three touchdowns on the ground. He showed great resiliency against
Washington State, finishing with season-highs in completions (21), yards (329)
and touchdowns (five), despite being sacked seven times.
It may seem like it, but Mariota is not the only talented player on the
offensive side of the ball. At wide receiver, the Ducks have plenty of
weapons. Devon Allen (14 receptions, 299 yards, five TDs) and Keanon Lowe (13
receptions, 221 yards, three TDs) are the top options, with running back Byron
Marshall (18 receptions, 235 yards, two TDs) also getting in on the action.
Marshall is actually third on the team in rushing yards (201), with Mariota
and Royce Freeman (261 yards, five TDs) the more productive runners.
As usual, the offense has received much more of the praise for Oregon, but the
defense has been solid, albeit still with its share of issues. The Ducks are
allowing 21.2 points and 443.5 yards per game. They certainly didn’t help
their cause against Washington State, which piled up 499 yards of total
offense, including 436 through the air.