Oregon at Arizona Preview and Keys for Victory
This Saturday Oregon travels to Tucson, Arizona to face the Arizona Wildcats. The game in the desert is a scary one for duck fans. Two years ago Jeremiah Masoli led a 4th-quarter comeback and an eventual win in double overtime. Two years before that game we lost Dennis Dixon and lost out on our national title hopes. Two years before that Kellen Clemens went down. This year it looks like the Wildcats are overmatched Oregon should win easy (they are favored by 16 points) but something strange comes over the field when these two teams play in a place I like to call, the Arizona Vortex.
The Wildcats are 1-2, with their lone win being a 41-10 win over Northern Arizona. Since then they’ve played Oklahoma State and Stanford. Arizona has one of the toughest four-week stretches in the country, having to play Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, and USC. In their games against top teams Arizona only managed to score 12 points a game and have given up 37 points a game.
Arizona is a one-dimensional team. They have a very inexperienced offensive line, for all five this is their first year starting, and their leading rusher Keola Antolin has only rushed 22 times in their last two games, having yet to break the hundred yard in a game mark. When they have an NFL quarterback in Nick Foles it’s easy to get one-dimensional. Against the Cowboys Foles threw 51 times and 31 times against the Cardinal.
The defense for the Wildcats, especially the pass defense, got torn apart by Oklahoma State and Stanford. Granted, Oklahoma State has Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, and Stanford has Andrew Luck, but the defense did not look good for the vast majority of those games.
When we look at their defensive S&P+ we see that they rank 37th overall with a score of 109.4 When we don’t look at their strength of schedule (hence the +) then we see that they rank 78th, with a score of .770. So are their defensive woes just a function of the Wildcats having played against two of the best offenses in the country? We shall see Saturday. When a defense gets decimated three weeks in a row by good offenses, they cease to be a good defense that were victims of their schedules, they become a mediocre defense.
There are two sets of situations that football outsiders looks at. Standard downs are 1st and 10, 2nd and 5, 3rd and 2, or better. Passing downs are anything beyond the standard down. The Wildcats struggle on standard downs with a score of .835, good for 87th in the country, and shows a real lack of rush/pass defense. Even worse, when the Wildcats get put in a passing down situation on defense, they are the 100th ranked team in the country with a score of .724. Yikes. However, the matchup may be close in passing down situations, as Oregon only has a .685 score on passing down efficiency, putting them at 52nd in the country.
Arizona on offense is led by Nick Foles and has an S&P+ of 106.7, ranking them as the 39th most efficient and explosive offense in the country. Being one-dimensional has caused problems for the Wildcat offense, such as them averaging 12 points a game against FBS teams.
Oregon has struggled on the defensive line, and people can say we’re looking for something to pick and point at saying it’s lacking, but the defensive line has me worried. The line gave up 272 yards to Nevada (a great offense) and 185 rushing yards to Missouri State, including a bad first quarter against the Bears. Many thought the defensive line would be a strength coming in to this season but so far it remains a question mark. This is going to be fine though, as Arizona has no rushing attack and the defensive linemen can use their speed and try to get to the quarterback. Arizona ranks 107th in offensive rushing S&P. Nick Foles is really slow, so if the interior of the line can apply pressure of the middle and flush Foles out of the pocket it can cause a lot of chaos in the Wildcat attack.
Interestingly enough, Arizona is 17th in the country in standard downs S&P, which means they are really good at getting standard downs on second and third down, but for some reason are 64th in the country on passing downs. For comparison, Oregon ranks 52nd in the country on passing downs, .048 better than Arizona. Texas A&M ranks 1st in the country in passing downs with a score of 1.616, almost a full point better than Oregon.
There are a few keys for Oregon:
1. Get to Foles. Foles is not a mobile quarterback and the defensive line for Oregon lacks size but is big on speed. If the big buffet busters up front can get through the inexperienced Wildcat line, the Ducks can hurry Foles in to short throw and put them in passing downs where they have not done well.
2. The offensive tempo needs to be fast. Blur fast, so fast that the Arizona defense
that is low on depth is gassed by halftime. The offensive line hasn’t been able to create many huge holes against FBS opponents yet and I hope to see that happen soon. The tempo will help because once the Wildcats get tired they’ll make mental mistakes and holes will form. LaMichael James looks like a much better runner and it’s a huge bummer that the offensive line hasn’t been able to free him up.
3. Cliff Harris needs to show up and play big when he’s in. I wonder why he hasn’t been starting, and I know he has a finger injury, but even in special teams last week it seemed like he gave up on a few plays. Arizona has a great receiver in Juron Criner who is a big threat downfield, and it would be great if Cliff Harris would lock him down.
4. Darron Thomas needs to play well. As stated above, Arizona has a hard time on pass defense and passing downs. Arizona is probably going to stack the box and dare Thomas to throw the ball deep and throw often, like the other teams have done to some success. Once Thomas starts slinging the ball around the field then the rushing attack could get more breathing room when blocking.