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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Football seeks third straight victory in newfound rivalry against Oregon

    UA running back Nic Grigsby (23) breaks a tackle in last years 34-24 upset victory over then-No. 2 Oregon at Arizona Stadium. Over the past two years against the Ducks - both UA victories - the schools have developed a new rivalry on the gridiron.
    UA running back Nic Grigsby (23) breaks a tackle in last year’s 34-24 upset victory over then-No. 2 Oregon at Arizona Stadium. Over the past two years against the Ducks – both UA victories – the schools have developed a new rivalry on the gridiron.

    With its first bowl appearance in a decade already locked up, the Arizona football team needed to look for something new to use as motivation.

    It didn’t take long with Oregon looming on the schedule.

    This week, both players and coaches admitted there has been added excitement to play the Ducks, a team which Arizona competes regularly with for recruits off the field and has bested lately.

    With both the Pacific 10 Conference race and the opportunity for improvement in terms of which bowl game the Wildcats could end up at, when Arizona (6-3 overall, 4-2 Pac-10) travels to Eugene to take on Oregon on Saturday at Autzen Stadium, the budding rivalry will be more heated than ever.

    “”We get up for Oregon,”” said UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”We try to do our best each and every week, but there are definitely some battles (with Oregon).

    “”It is nothing personal,”” Stoops added, “”It is going to be a great challenge.””

    Oregon may still have a sour taste in its mouth from its trip to Tucson a year ago as the No. 2 team in the nation, when the Ducks fell to Arizona after Dennis Dixon – who was in Heisman Trophy discussions – left the game with a knee injury.

    The loss can’t be pointed out as the sole reason the Ducks didn’t make a trip to the title game, as some expected, but it did get the ball rolling in terms of losses, as the Ducks dropped their next two games and ended up in the Sun Bowl – a far cry from a trip to New Orleans for the BCS National Championship Game.

    Arizona head coach Mike Stoops pointed out in his weekly press conference Monday that a rivalry could be forming, which can be attributed to the Wildcats’ growth as a program.

    “”I think the better you get, you start invading other people’s space (and) everyone takes it personal,”” Mike Stoops said of the maturation of his program. “”I guess that tells you that you’re getting a little bit better.””

    Added offensive lineman Joe Longacre: “”I do (consider Oregon a rival). For some reason that is a big game for us, and has always been a big game. I know we recruit heavily against each other, and it has always been a game we get up for, without a doubt.””

    This season, the stakes may not be as high for Oregon given their national title hopes a year ago, but the contest could be just as meaningful for both squads, as the Ducks (7-3, 5-2) sit right above the Wildcats in the Pac-10 standings.

    USC and Oregon State remain in control of the conference, both losing just once in Pac-10 play, but the winner in Eugene could find itself with an leg-up for a bid to the Holiday Bowl or the Sun Bowl.

    Arizona is still reveling in excitement about attending a postseason game for the first time since 1998, but the team has sworn it has moved on and turned its attention toward Oregon.

    The goal is no longer to make a bowl game, but rather to improve its resume in effort to be selected for a more prestigious postseason game.

    “”It is something that hasn’t happened around here in 10 years, so you feel a little bit different and we are excited, but we can’t let that get to us because we still have a few games left,”” said defensive end Ricky Elmore. “”I think now that this has happened to us it is going to give us a lot more momentum heading into our next few games.””

    But at a stadium like Autzen Stadium, momentum can be taken away pretty quick.

    It is often regarded as one of the most hostile environments to play in despite seating less than 60,000 people – other stadiums deemed intimidating usually seat an upwards of 100,000 – because the fans sit closer to the field than usual.

    Combined with the possibility Eugene will sport cold and wet weather, the challenge of playing could be a tall task for Arizona, but it’s one the Wildcats swear they are ready for.

    “”(Playing at loud stadiums) communication becomes more important, the quarterback has got to do a good job of making sure everybody is on the same page and knows what’s going on,”” said UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes. “”I like it when it’s (loud at a stadium), it’s kind of fun for your players and I don’t know why, but it seems like guys play a little more focused.

    “”I think they have to concentrate better in order to communicate with each other,”” Dykes added, “”so I think in a weird sort of way it helps your concentration and focus.””

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