Sept. 20, 2012
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Athletics Communication Services
Arizona's trip to Eugene this week for a match against the No. 3 Ducks of Oregon can't be called just another football game. Coaches like to think of them that way, admittedly.
Rich Rodriguez of Arizona and Chip Kelly of UO may prepare their squads for one-game-at-a-time focus, keeping things consistent for their charges. That's understandable, and afterall, this is the game at hand. But both 3-0 unbeatens open their Pac-12 seasons, both squads are ranked and the series has had a tangible edge to it of late.
Throw in national television, two explosive teams, and it's an early season game of note on Saturday night. College Game Day, Jim Rome, Sports Center and some other widespread attention were pointed at the squads this week to underscore the anticipation. You'd see plenty of tease if you watch the ESPN games that precede the cablecast this week.
It's Rodriguez's first foray into the Emerald Empire and raucous Autzen Stadium, where it never rains, a rumbling Harley Fat Boy brings out the Duck, and the first row of Oregon fans is 15 feet behind your ear on the visitors' sideline.
Rodriguez has shown in his early Arizona tenure that he has a good plan, doesn't burden his team with expectations other than self-possessed play, and knows how to take a tilt -- albeit against the No. 3 club in the land -- in stride. It is another game and for Arizona only one stop on the highway to where Coach Rodriguez plans taking his program. He's getting things going; the Ducks are the defending Pac-12 champs.
The No. 22 Cats and Ducks have only met four times in the past 15 years when both teams were ranked. In 1998 No. 14 UA whipped No. 12 Oregon, 38-3, in Tucson; in 2000 the 21st-ranked Cats were clipped, 14-10, by seventh-rated UO in Tucson; and two years ago in 2010 No. 1 Oregon toppled No. 20 Arizona, 48-29, in Eugene.
In the last 10 years the Ducks have been ranked six times they faced Arizona and posted a 5-1 mark, so expectations for an Arizona upset can be tempered by some numbers. Yet, Wildcat partisans remember the Wildcats taking down the second-ranked Ducks, 34-24, in Tucson in 2007, and taking the No. 11 Ducks to double overtime before falling by three points, 44-41, in Tucson in 2009.
Still, no Arizona team has gone into Autzen and beaten a ranked Oregon squad, so the challenge this week appears as tough as it gets.
The game itself can be paper-worked as a contest between two of the most prolific offenses in the country. Oregon's tempo is well known, the fact Arizona ran 102 plays last week might be less so. UA has more first downs than any team out there. Oregon's electrifying playmakers have spelled trouble for any and all comers.
With apologies to their defensive coordinators, as long as they can score 50 the two head coaches appear unmoved by giving up 45 points. An unkind way of looking at it is that defense is some other guy's purview while they're thinking about the next offensive possession.
That's an oversimplification, but even without Rodriguez's adding his up-tempo offense into the mix, Arizona-Oregon games have been 1,000-yard contests of late. Neither team is going to bend over and huddle this week, for sure, so the only time fans can take a break is when the TV redhat walks out to the hash mark to stop play for a two-minute commercial break. Whew.
So buckle up and turn on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. (PDT) Saturday. Defensive purists are cautioned to just count on some big plays here or there. Truth be told, some handful of defensive stops or a key takeaway is going to make the difference. Maybe.