No. 10 Ducks open conference season in the desert
Oregon soothed the wounds of a season-opening loss to LSU with
scoring outbursts against inferior foes, just the tonic to restore
confidence in its strike-from-anywhere offense. The 10th-ranked
Ducks haven’t lost a conference game in two years, and they are
heavily favored to keep it that way Saturday night at Arizona.
It’s the third game of a rugged stretch for the Wildcats (1-2),
blown out by Oklahoma State and Stanford the past two weeks. That’s
three top 10 opponents in three weeks.
”Some of our lack of maturity kind of shows through when you
play a team like Stanford, Oklahoma State or certainly Oregon,”
Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. ”The lack of consistency shows up
in a lot of areas of our team.”
All three teams are among the top offensively in the nation,
Stoops said, ”but they all do it a different way.”
”We’re going from a lot of different offenses right now,”
linebacker Derek Earls said. ”It’s kind of hard to get everything,
have one game plan set, dump that and go to a totally different
look. Sometimes it gets frustrating but it’s college
Oregon (2-1) has won 14 of the last 16 meetings in the series
but the games of late have often been close. Last year in Eugene,
Arizona was in the game before wearing down against the relentless
up-tempo Ducks late in a 48-29 loss.
Two years ago in Tucson, Oregon won in two overtimes in a game
that featured Arizona fans pouring onto the field prematurely.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who certainly appreciates the help of a
loud home crowd, said he admires the noise at Arizona, particularly
the student section.
The Ducks can mix the run and pass with equal devastation – 783
yards rushing, 836 passing. Arizona has not been able to muster
much of a run game to support the passing of Nick Foles, although
that was one of the few areas of improvement Stoops cited against
Stanford. Arizona ranks second in the Pac-12 and fifth nationally
in passing (364 yards per game). On the ground, they’re dead last
in the conference (55.7 per game).
Kelly called Foles ”one of the best in the country.”
”He’s big, he’s strong, he’s tough,” Kelly said. ”You watch
the game and I can’t believe the hits people put on him, and he
just gets up and keeps swinging,”
Juron Criner, who returned remarkably quickly from an
appendectomy and played against Stanford, has caught eight passes,
five of them for touchdowns, against Oregon.
While Oregon is the two-time defending conference champion,
Arizona has not recovered from a five-game freefall at the end of
last season. The Wildcats have lost seven of eight with the lone
victory this season’s opener against Northern Arizona.
After their 47-20 season-opening loss to LSU, the Ducks came
home and beat Nevada 69-20 and Missouri State 56-7. LaMichael James
broke through with a 204-yard rushing performance last week.
”I think the offense got into a rhythm,” tight end David
Paulson said. ”I know in the first game our offense never really
got going, so it was good to see our offense get into a rhythm and
get our tempo going.”
Already the school’s career rushing leader, James is one rushing
touchdown shy of Derek Loville’s Oregon record of 41.
When Kelly was asked if this game has a special meaning since
it’s the conference opener, the response was exactly what anyone
who is around him much would expect.
”Every game we play is a Super Bowl,” he said. ”If you can
give me a game that’s bigger than a Super Bowl, we’ll go with that,
but this is our Super Bowl this week.”