Oregon Ducks vs. Arizona Wildcats Complete Game Preview
The Oregon Ducks will travel to the desert on Saturday to face the reeling Arizona Wildcats in a big Pac-12 matchup for both teams.
The Wildcats have lost their last two games after a solid 6-3 start. They played tough against UCLA in a 31-26 loss but are coming off a 24-17 home loss to Washington State last week.
The Ducks bounced back from their only loss of the season with a 44-21 win over the Utah Utes in Eugene on Saturday. Oregon struggled early and was only leading 17-7 at the half. After the Utes cut the lead to 17-14 early in the third quarter, the Ducks responded immediately when running back De'Anthony Thomas returned the kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown.
The Ducks scored on three of the next four possessions to blow the game wide open.
Oregon now controls its own destiny as it looks for its fourth Pac-12 championship since 2009. A win over Arizona would leave the Ducks needing just a win over Oregon State to secure home field in the Pac-12 championship game.
Here is everything you need to know about the matchup.
Who: No. 5 Oregon Ducks (9-1) vs. Arizona Wildcats (6-4)
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz.
When: 3:30 p.m. ET
Series History: Oregon has won five straight games and leads the all-time series 24-14; including an 11-9 mark at Arizona Stadium.
Spread: According to vegasinsider.com, Oregon is favored by 17.5 points.
Oregon Ducks Keys to Victory
Keep it cliche
The Ducks have been on an emotional roller coaster over the last couple of weeks. They suffered a disheartening loss to Stanford, which looked as if it would end their Pac-12 title hopes, then came out flat against Utah before exploding in the second half.
After beating Utah, the Ducks sat back and watched as USC toppled Stanford, giving the Ducks sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 North. Coach speak is a big thing around Eugene right now as the Ducks know they have to control what they can by taking care of what they have in front of them.
The Ducks have two games remaining, with the conference championship game waiting for them if they win the next two. With just a pair of winnable games left, the Ducks could get caught looking ahead. What they need to do is everybody's favorite sports cliche. Oregon needs to focus and take it one game at a time.
The easiest way to let a road game get away is through sloppy play. It allows the home team to build momentum and get the crowd involved. The Ducks haven't been very sharp of late and will need to execute the best they can. Although the Ducks have a huge talent advantage over the Wildcats, Arizona is capable of pulling off a shocker if Oregon comes out flat.
Carey can cause all sorts of issues for a defense but so can Denker. The sneaky, athletic and crafty Denker can do a lot of damage with his feet and confuse the defense in the moment with his left-handed delivery.
If the Ducks stick to their assignments and stay alert at all times, they should have no problem with the Wildcats. If they don't, things could get interesting.
Arizona Wildcats Keys to Victory
Get the run game going early
The Oregon defense has been solid against the run in 2013, but Washington's Bishop Sankey is the only back they've faced who can approach what Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey brings to the table.
The Arizona offensive line isn't an elite group, but they have been good enough to keep Carey atop the Pac-12 rushing chart again in 2013. He isn't alone on the list of Pac-12 rushing leaders, as quarterback B.J. Denker is also on it.
Denker needs to make some plays to keep the Ducks from loading the box to stop Carey, but he'll need to stay within himself to accomplish that. The senior has been up and down this year but possesses the ability in his arm and on his feet to keep the Ducks off balance.
He needs to make plays in the passing game, but he can't try to do too much or the Oregon secondary will eat him alive. Oregon cornerback Terrance Mitchell has been a ball hawk of late but still gets the ball thrown to his side of the field because of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, his counterpart on the other side of the field.
Like Oregon, Arizona uses a run-first approach out of the spread. Running the ball is the bread and butter for this year's Wildcats and they need to stick with it. If the Ducks get out ahead early and force the Wildcats to throw the ball around the field, it won't end well for Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats.
Oregon Ducks Players to Watch
Quarterback Marcus Mariota
Mariota's knee seemed to hold up nicely in the win against Utah. The pain hasn't gone away completely, but the former Heisman front-runner doesn't seem too concerned with it.
The Ducks traveled to Tucson with an all-American quarterback in 2005 and lost him for the season. The Ducks entered the game with just one loss, and while they did get the win, they left the game without Kellen Clemens, who broke his leg and missed the rest of the season.
In 2007, the Ducks were 7-1 and ranked No. 2 in the BCS when they visited the Wildcats. This time around, Oregon was dealt an even worse outcome than it was in the 2005 matchup. The Ducks lost the game and Heisman favorite Dennis Dixon for the rest of the season after he tore his ACL.
Mariota is having a better season than either of them did.
Running Back De'Anthony Thomas
Thomas returned to form against Utah by making an impact—for the first time since the Tennessee game—with a touchdown catch and a return touchdown.
His 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Utes not only changed the momentum of the game, but it reminded Oregon fans just how special he is. He is a rare player whose speed stands out no matter who else is on the field.
Oregon fans hope that the Utah game was a sign of things to come for Thomas, as Saturday could be the last time he will suit up for the Ducks in a road game.
Arizona Wildcats Players to Watch
RB Ka'Deem Carey
After leading the nation in rushing during the 2012 season, Carey is at it once again in 2013. He missed one game, so his numbers aren't quite as high as they could be, but he is actually rushing for more yards on average this season than he did last year.
He is the workhorse for the Wildcats and unquestionably their top weapon. He averages 27 carries and 150 yards per game. If the Ducks can shut down Carey, the Wildcats likely have no shot of beating the Ducks.
If he gets off to a hot start and builds momentum with each carry, he has the ability to keep the Wildcats in the game for as long as his legs will hold him.
The 6'3", 185-pound left-handed Denker is a sneaky athlete who has the ability to throw the ball, but he battles with bouts of extreme inconsistency. He ranks next-to-last in the Pac-12 in completion percentage among regular starters by completing just 59.7 of his passes. He has thrown just 12 touchdowns in the season, but despite his inconsistency, he has managed to throw just four interceptions.
He might have more interceptions if not for the high volume of running plays the Wildcats run each game. With Denker's help, the Wildcats rank just behind the Ducks in rushing yards per game, with a 263.7 average. Denker averages just less than 71 yards per game, with season totals of 138 carries for 708 yards and 11 touchdowns.
What They're Saying
As reported by Molly Blue of The Oregonian, Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti thinks highly of Arizona's offense, especially Ka'Deem Carey.
Here is the video of Aliotti, posted by Blue, discussing the Wildcats with members of the Oregon media.
"Awesome," Aliotti said, when asked about the Pac-12's leading rusher. "I'm impressed with Ka'Deem Carey. He's as good a back as there is in the country."
In this preview from Daniel Berk of azcentral.com, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez couldn't stop talking about the challenge and opportunity that Oregon presents to his team.
It’s a huge game on a lot of levels for (Oregon), but for us, too, to try to get some national respect,” Rodriguez said. “This is a top-five team and a team that has national respect. I think every player wants to have respect; they want to feel like they belong and can play with anybody in the country. If they don’t play that way, they have the wrong mind-set. I want our players to think that way.
This is the game you can prove it.
You talk about how, ‘I can play with anybody in the country’ and all this and that, but until you do it, it’s just talk, right?
Well, this weekend, you don’t have to talk about; you can show it. If you can play with Oregon, if you can line up with that guy and beat him and he’s going to be an NFL guy or he’s talked about nationally and you’re not, well now you have a chance to get some national respect.
That’s where it goes to the competitiveness. I’ll be very disappointed if our guys don’t compete as hard as they’ve ever competed just because of the opportunity they have with the Ducks.
Also from Berk's azcentral.com article, Rodriguez gushed about Oregon QB Marcus Mariota.
He’s as good of a college quarterback as there’s been out there the last couple of years. He’s a top-five (NFL draft) pick. Without question, he should be in New York for the Heisman and I think, one of the favorites.
Ryan Thorburn of The Register Guard was able to get some in-depth medical analysis from the usually reserved Mariota. Remember, this is Oregon we're talking about and they don't discuss injuries.
"Knee is good," Mariota said.
Obviously, Mariota feels confident enough about it his knee to make such a profound statement.
On a more serious note, Mariota went on to tell Thorburn that his lack of production on the ground has had more to do with the opposing defenses than him being hobbled with a sprained knee.
I honestly don’t believe it has been affecting my decision-making at all. It has been the look. The last two weeks the defenses haven’t been giving me the opportunity to pull it.Obviously, if Arizona starts crashing down I’ll make the most of the opportunity.
Defenses are kind of selling out to stop the run and it kind of opens up the passing game. We’re going to take advantage of whatever the defense gives us and execute.
The Wildcats have been too inconsistent this season to believe that they can pull off an upset of this magnitude. Aside from the loss to Washington State, Arizona has beaten the teams it was supposed to and lost to the teams with which it was expected to have trouble.
Through 10 games, it has been a pretty run-of-the-mill season for Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats. Even if they finish with losses to Oregon and Arizona State, Arizona will likely end up in a bowl game with six wins. Overall, it wouldn't be a bad holiday gift for a team that was picked by the media to finish eighth in the Pac-12 before the season.
If they Wildcats are able to pull off a shocker against the Ducks or the rival Sun Devils, it would shake up the conference championship race in a big way.
If Arizona is going to win one of the next two games, expect it to be in the always unpredictable rivalry game, especially if it means the Wildcats would keep the Sun Devils out of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Whether the Wildcats can get to seven wins is yet to be seen, but don't expect lucky number seven to come against the Ducks.
Arizona might hang around for a little while with some big plays, but the Ducks will pull away by halftime and run away with another resounding victory.
Oregon 48, Arizona 20