If past is prelude, Arizona at Oregon may get wild
The wild recent history between Oregon and Arizona seemed to peak last season when overzealous Wildcats fans readied to rush the field to celebrate what looked to be a victory over the Ducks.
Instead, fans left disappointed after Oregon tied it with 6 seconds left and went on to win 44-41 in the second overtime. The loss eliminated Arizona from any chance at the Rose Bowl - the Ducks' ultimate destination.
In 2007, the Ducks were ranked No. 2 in the nation when they visited Tucson, entertaining whispers about lofty offseason possibilities. But quarterback Dennis Dixon went down with a season-ending knee injury, Arizona won 34-24 and the Ducks spiraled with losses in three of their last four games.
''Every year since I've been here our battles with Arizona have been real knockdown drag-outs and that's what this is gonna be,'' Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.
The No. 1 Ducks (10-0, 7-0 Pac-10) can clinch a BCS berth this Friday when the No. 20 Wildcats (7-3, 4-3) visit Autzen Stadium. Oregon can also lock up at least a share of the conference title with a victory.
Oregon, with its famously fast, high-scoring offense, is ranked atop the nation with an average of 50.7 points a game, and the team's averaging 542.2 yards total offense.
But Arizona could prove problematic for the Ducks.
There are questions surrounding running back LaMichael James, who leads the nation with 158 rushing yards a game.
After Oregon's last game, a 15-13 squeaker over California, the Heisman Trophy hopeful was on crutches with a leg injury. He was able to rest the injury over a bye week and practiced on a limited basis.
James said earlier this week he was still feeling some pain, but he was not listed on Oregon's injury report.
Arizona is ranked No. 20 nationally in total defense, allowing an average 319.3 yards, and 14th in run defense, allowing 112.9. And, also coming off a bye, the Wildcats have had a chance to both rest and game-plan for the Ducks.
Defensive coordinator Greg Brown joked when asked how his unit planned to slow down Oregon.
''Thirteen guys,'' he said. ''We've got a special petition into the NCAA to see if they'll go for it.''
On offense, Arizona's strength is quarterback Nick Foles, who has thrown for 601 yards with four touchdowns and an interception over his last two games. He is completing a conference-high 71.0 percent of his passes.
But the Wildcats lost those two games, to Stanford and USC - both of whom Oregon easily defeated.
Arizona will be without receiver Bug Wright, suspended indefinitely this week for violating team rules. Wright had two touchdown catches this season.
Stoops said the Wildcats learned from last year's encounter with the Ducks.
''I think our players understand how good you have to play as a team and how disciplined and how quick they can strike,'' coach Mike Stoops said. ''We had pretty good control of that game a year ago and they came back and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and executed very well. We just got a couple of guys out of place, and the next thing you knew, they were scoring.''
Oregon showed vulnerability in a low-scoring game against Cal, and no doubt the Wildcats have committed the film on the game to memory. But quarterback Darron Thomas said the narrow victory in a season of blowouts didn't rattle the Ducks.
''Nothing's really changed. We expect Arizona to come out and do some similar things that Cal did so we just have to be ready this time,'' said Thomas, who has thrown 23 touchdown passes in Oregon's unique spread-option.
This one will likely produce higher scores for both teams. Over their last four meetings, Arizona has scored 120 points (40 points per game) while Oregon has had 126 points (42).
In the end, weather could ultimately be a factor for Arizona. The forecast for Friday calls for rain and temperatures in the 40s. That would mean the Wildcats - used to a considerably warmer and drier climate - might not be able to rely so much on their passing attack, which is averaging just over 300 yards a game.
''I think in big games, the excitement of the situation keeps you focused on the task at hand. The excitement of the game, the totality of it, has a lot to do with the atmosphere,'' Stoops said. ''It might be uncomfortable for us, not what we're used to, but it shouldn't have any effect on the game.''