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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona vs. Oregon: Three keys to victory

Heather Newberry
The Arizona Stadium filled with fans right before halftime at the UA-Oregon State game on Nov. 11.

Arizona will try to celebrate Homecoming weekend versus No. 19 ranked Oregon on Saturday night. 

The Wildcats’ inaugural season under head coach Kevin Sumlin has been far from ideal, but they still have a chance to make some noise down the final stretch. 

As it currently stands, Arizona’s chances to become bowl-eligible are slim to none, but that’s exactly why they shouldn’t be counted out of any of the remaining four games. College football has proven time and time again that there is nothing more dangerous than a team with little to lose. 

The primary question heading into Saturday night’s matchup is: Who will line up behind center for the ‘Cats? Khalil Tate and Rhett Rodriguez are entirely different players with unique strengths and their own sets of weaknesses. 

      RELATED: The story of Rhett Rod

On Saturday night Arizona will have to strive for perfection at every other position in order to upend the Ducks’ Pac-12 Championship aspirations. 

Here’s how the Wildcats can do just that: 

Start fast 

It sounds simple, but it’s not. 

Arizona has failed to score in the first quarter in all five of its losses. In other words, when the ‘Cats don’t get on the board early, they tend to struggle to get on the board at all. In order for Arizona to keep pace with Oregon’s high-powered offense, they’ll have to execute efficiently from the start. 

The Ducks will likely be looking to avenge last weekend’s awful loss to Washington State, so Arizona’s offense shouldn’t be caught off guard by an aggressive and stingy defense. 

No matter who starts at quarterback for the ‘Cats, it will be imperative to get the run game rolling. If there’s been any semblance of consistency for Arizona’s offense this season, it has come on the ground. A successful first scoring drive would set the tone for this game and let Oregon know that Arizona may not be as much of a pushover as they originally thought. 

Get off the field on third down 

Despite several defenders stepping up over the last several weeks, the Wildcat defense has yet to consistently get off the field on third down. 

It’s arguably been Arizona’s most significant defensive issue all season long, and there haven’t been any signs of improvement. 

Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates’ unit has buckled down early in opposing teams drives as of late, but they’ve continually hurt themselves when the down and distance is in their favor. 

Oregon’s offense is third in the Pac-12 third down efficiency rankings converting 48.1 percent of the time, so Saturday night will be a massive test for a unit that has seriously struggled to get the ball back into its offense’s hands. 

     RELATED: Homecoming horror for Arizona against Oregon?

Getting pressure on Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert will be critical for Arizona’s defensive success come Saturday night. Colin Schooler can’t be the only Wildcat wreaking havoc in Oregon’s backfield. It will take all 11 defenders to shut down the Ducks’ balanced offensive attack.

The bottom line, though, is that if Arizona’s defense is stuck on the field for the majority of the game, Tate or Rodriguez won’t even have a chance to get into a rhythm offensively.

Limit the big plays on the ground 

Dating back to last season and the season before that, Arizona’s run defense has been astronomically bad. In 2016, Yates’ first season in charge of the defense, the Wildcats surrendered 194.2 yards per game on the ground. The following year, Arizona ranked ninth in the Pac-12, allowing an average of 185.1 rushing yards per game. 

The slight improvement certainly wasn’t a true measure of Yates’ ability to get more out of his players, as Arizona’s defense has fallen further from the conference leaders in defending the run. This season, which may prove to be Yates’ last, the Wildcats sit near the bottom of the conference against the run, allowing 195.9 yards per game. 

Quite frankly, it’s a flat-out embarrassment. The only Pac-12 team worse than the Wildcats against the run this season is Oregon State, and the Beavers’ lone win came against Southern Utah. If Arizona is going to have any chance on Saturday night, the front-seven has to show up – and not just for three quarters. 

Last week against UCLA, the Wildcat defense did an impressive job of bottling up senior running back Joshua Kelley, until he piled on the yardage on the Bruins’ final two offensive drives. 

Arizona’s defense has been far from excellent this season, but a strong outing against Oregon’s prolific run game would provide plenty of optimism moving forward. Another lackluster performance from Yates’ unit may be the final straw of an incredibly underwhelming three-year stretch.  

Follow Rob Kleifield on Twitter

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