Oregon St. has had Arizona's number in "modern times", winning 5 in a row in Tucson, and 11 of the last 13 meetings, including last year's 37-27 Beaver win in Corvallis that was the final straw that cost then 'Cats coach Mike Stoops his job.
But this years' teams don't have a lot to do with that recent history in either case. Oregon St. is a whole different team than we have seen in some time, as demonstrated by their back to back upset wins over ranked opponents to start the season. And its the "RichRod" era in Arizona, as new coach Rich Rodriguez has implemented his version of the read-option for first year starter Matt Scott.
To get fans up to date on what to expect Saturday night in Tucson, we got together with Kevin Zimmerman, the editor of the Arizona Desert Swarm to get some answers about the 'Cats.
Here's what we thought about what Kevin was curious about.
The final score of the Oregon game is very misleading; thanks to the defense, and despite the offense, the 'Cats were right there until midway in the third quarter. Did the Ducks' speed finally wear down the Arizona defense, or did Oregon "find" something that changed the game?
While I might get some "you're crazy, man" responses on this because I've written a couple things about how Arizona looked pretty good in some ways during the blowout, I think the Oregon defense should be given credit for changing the momentum. They forced four straight punts by Arizona out of halftime, and I think that caused the Wildcats to press and turn the ball over twice after the four punts. That led to the flood gates being opened. I think the defense actually held up very well even in the second half.
Arizona has been in four very fast-paced games, and one of the most noticeable difference between this year's squad and last year's is the conditioning, physicality and speed. Players said after the Oklahoma State victory they felt like the Cowboys -- who are the highest scoring team in the nation -- were getting tired. In short, I think the team conditioning is showing well. By the way, Oregon State really exploited those things in last year's first half, when they looked faster, stronger and more assertive than UA.
So to answer your question, I'm not sure the Ducks found something on offense, so much as on defense.
Is that defensive effort still something Arizona can build on going forward?
Absolutely. Again, I was impressed that UA was in the right places and looked capable of keeping up with Oregon's speed. They made the tackles they should have, and mostly limited De'Anthony Thomas aside from a single punt return. Two forced fumbles, forced turnovers on downs and an interception are some big positives moving forward.
Matt Scott failed to get anything out of 6 red-zone trips, 4 of them early. The Oregon defense played their best game of the year, but Scott seemed to hurry a number of throws, missing receivers who were open. What caused that? Will it carry over?
I think it's as simple as Scott overcoming his tendency to get overly-excited, and it might be as simple as mechanics. Even in the opener against Toledo, he had a few passes where his eyes would get so big at an open receiver that he'd overthrow them, letting it sail a bit.
The Oregon State game will tell us a lot about how he can mentally recover for an ugly outing; it being in Tucson helps Arizona's cause, but if the Beavers can get pressure on him, that could cause the same type of problems.
Ka'Deem Carey had another good game, and has been pretty consistent all season. But the Oregon St. defense has shut down a couple of the best running backs in the country. What will the 'Cats do to get Carey going against the Beavers?
This is another big question. The offensive line has been solid, but it hasn't been consistently opening running lanes for backs. Carey's numbers are impressive but weighted by some big plays rather than consistent four or five yard gains. I would think the coaches can get Carey more involved in the passing game. He has the ability to catch it out of the backfield and also spread out as a receiver. Getting a few delayed screens or simple dump-offs could get him revved up in open space if the between-the-tackle running game isn't working.
Now, we haven't seen that type of offense very much this season -- I don't think it's a big part of RichRod's offense -- but you'd think the coaches will try to get one of the better playmakers different opportunities.
The Tucson crowd has made it a tough spot for opponents to play for years, but is the fast start this season and excitement about "Rich Rod" ball under new coach Rich Rodriguez going to make it even tougher than before for Oregon St.?
I can't say it'll be more exciting than the past two times Oregon State has visited, although the copper helmets Arizona will be wearing Saturday might generate a little more buzz. In 2010, the Beavs stole a trap game to get Arizona out of the AP top 10. And I remember covering the 2008 game for the school newspaper, standing on the sidelines as Sammie Stroughter got behind UA's Devin Ross for a 47-yard pass catch right in front of me before the Beavs hit a field goal to win it by two. I can't remember hearing the wind get sucked out of a very loud stadium so quickly.
Kyle Kensing also wrote this solid piece about how the Beavers have dominated in Tucson for a while. In short, Oregon State has pretty darn good history at Arizona.
What concerns you most about this week's game?
I think it's a combination of Oregon State making Arizona one-dimensional and Matt Scott's recovery after a bad game at Oregon. I can't imagine the Wildcats will be able to get a run game going against a team that's shut down Montee Ball and Johnathan Franklin. They'll have to make a run game of sorts with quick dump-offs to receivers and get three or four yards per play to keep the Beavers honest. Plus, Scott has a bruised hip that hampers the zone-read ability.
Arizona appears to have a lot of receivers they are getting into the mix. Did you expect so many to step up this season?
Not really. The main guys in Austin Hill, Dan Buckner and Terrence Miller all had injury and/or consistency problems last year. They've been very stable this season, although Miller missed the Oregon game with a shoulder injury. I think teams are clamping down on Hill after a fast start, so it'll be key in how Arizona adjusts to keep him involved.
If the game is on the line, who will Scott most likely look to?
Any of the three receivers listed above. All three are at least 6'3 and very athletic. Buckner, however, is the more experience guy on the outside. Hill and Miller, if he's healthy, play more on the inside.
Whose' the unheralded player most likely to make a big play for the 'Cats?
There's a lot of guys on the defense that should be pointed out since we've talked a lot about the offensive stars so far. Hybrid players Jared Tevis and Tra'Mayne Bondurant can make big plays in the 3-3-5 defense, and linebacker Jake Fischer has been everywhere so far.
But cornerback Jonathan McKnight has a pick in each of the last three games and has quietly been making a solid comeback after missing all of last season with an ACL tear. Before the season last year, Mike Stoops called him the defense's best player (and he was entering his true sophomore season then), so I can't say I disagree right now.
Thanks, Kevin; that's great insight!