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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Taking down the Ducks

Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh/Arizona Daily Wildcat LaMichael James. UA vs. Oregon Nov. 21, 2009

It’s been said that bad things come in threes. For the Arizona football team, that’s true in the form of three top-10 opponents in a row, all of which boast a top-10 scoring offense.

This week, it’s No. 10 Oregon and its fast-paced option attack rolling into Tucson for a 7:15 p.m. kickoff that will be televised on ESPN2. But for an Arizona (1-2, 0-1 Pac-12) defense that’s given up 37 points in each of its last two games, it’s back to the basics.

“It’s assignment football,” defensive coordinator Tim Kish said. “We’ve got to be smart about that.”

Oregon (2-1, 0-0) has used its now-famous offensive attack to rush for 261 yards per game, ranking the Ducks eighth nationally in rushing yards. Oregon likes to attack defenses by motioning to and from different formations, trying to create mismatches.

“It’s very complicated, but you have to be very disciplined and understand your responsibilities,” head coach Mike Stoops said. “It gets you moving around. You’ve got to be … focused to see what they’re trying to do.”

So while the Ducks are able to showcase a Heisman Trophy contender in running back LaMichael James and other elite athletes at each of the offensive skill positions, stopping the Ducks usually doesn’t come down to physical ability.

“It’s very mental,” safety Robert Golden said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to practice and preach all week. You’ve got to be gap-sound, you’ve got to pursue the ball inside out. That’s what we plan on doing on Saturday.”

Many of Oregon’s offensive plays have some sort of read on the defensive line. If the ends are overly aggressive, it opens up running lanes outside for quarterback Darron Thomas. If linebackers and safeties creep up to the line to stop the run, it opens up room for deep passes.

Because of the variety of ways that Oregon can attack the defense on any given play, UA linebacker Paul Vassallo said defenses feel a little more pressure against the Ducks than other opponents.

“It makes you know that you’re going to have to be near perfect,” Vassallo said. “You’re going to have to take good angles all game. If one guy wraps them up, we’ve got to make sure we get him down.”

Oregon’s rush offense is a different brand of football than the smashmouth attack Stanford used to rush for 242 in a 37-10 victory a week ago. Following that game, Wildcat coaches lamented defensive miscues like blown coverages and missed assignments.

But different isn’t always a good thing. The Ducks racked up 389 yards on the ground in last year’s 48-29 win against Arizona.

Oregon’s offense thrives on big plays — five players have at least one carry of longer than 20 yards, and five receivers have a catch of longer than 30 yards. So while Kish knows that mistakes will happen, it’s eliminating the huge ones that has been a focus in practice.

“We didn’t execute fully in that last game and it cost us some big plays,” Kish said. “Those are the things that are probably most disappointing. Those guys will make some little mistakes, but if they’re hustling and flying around and doing the right things, that makes up for some of those.”

But for Golden, previous games against Oregon are in the past, and he’s relishing another opportunity to take down a top-10 team in front of Arizona’s home fans.

“I hope the environment will be great this week,” Golden said. “It’s a big challenge and we want to go out there and get it done.”

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