The Arizona Wildcats have struggled to stop the run in each of their past two games, and now they have to face the nation’s leading rusher — Oregon’s LaMichael James.
James is averaging 158.0 yards per game and 6.32 yards per carry. He has 17 rushing touchdowns, tied for second nationally.
“His speed and balance is the best I’ve seen,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said of the sophomore. “I’ve said that since day one. I thought he was the best running back we’ve seen in a long, long time.
“You can be in great position, but he is going to make you miss. Guys are going to fall over him. He’s going to keep his feet going. He’s going to break a tackle. And that’s where a lot of issues occur.
“You can play something perfectly, and he just finds a little bit of a crease and he makes a big play out of it.”
James’ speed and the deception of Oregon’s read-option offense will make it tough on the Wildcats, who were overpowered in the past two games by Stanford and USC. Arizona allowed a combined 422 rushing yards in those games.
Oregon is a different kind of beast, threatening the defense sideline to sideline as well as straight ahead. The top-ranked Ducks average a national-best 50.7 points per game.
“Our discipline will be tested across the board defensively,” Stoops said.
“They have 11 guys who can really stretch the field vertically and horizontally. Their players are just so good at what they do. They have probably the best set of 11 offensive players you can have for a system like this.”
James rushed 19 times for 117 yards and no touchdowns against Arizona last season as the Ducks rallied to win 44-41 in double overtime. For as good as that production was, it was one of James’ worst efforts against Pac-10 competition.
In 16 career conference games, the 117-yard outing ranks only as his 12th-best game.
In a sense, Arizona welcomes facing a speed offense rather than a power offense.
“We have lateral speed, and that is what you have to have in playing a team like this,” Stoops said. THE SCOTT OPTION
Backup quarterback Matt Scott practiced Sunday and should be available Friday night at Oregon, although Stoops said he wants to see how Scott progresses through the week. Scott has missed two games because of an injury to his right wrist.
“We feel Matt is probable,” Stoops said. “We feel like he will be an option. To what extent, I think we’ll see how good he feels on Friday.”
Scott, because of his running ability, could be an X-factor for the Wildcats against a speedy Oregon defense.