By the time the Arizona game rolls around Oregon State will have just endured a brutal 5-game stretch. One that features Utah, at Washington, Washington State, at Stanford and at UCLA. But, they will return home to the friendly confines of Reser Stadium for their last two games of the season.
Game 11: Arizona
Oregon State will face the Arizona Wildcats in Corvallis on November 19th. The Wildcats are coming off a 7-6 season where they started off strong, but struggled down the stretch losing 4-of-5 to finish the season, before defeating New Mexico 45-37 in a bowl game.
Rich Rodriguez is the face of the Arizona program and is entering his 5th year at the helm. He’s led the Wildcats to a bowl game every year of his tenure and doesn’t plan to stop this season, but he could find it difficult to become bowl-eligible again in 2016.
‘Rich Rod’ is quite the character and few college coaches cut loose like he does. I mean just check out this Gladiator themed hype video the football team released recently!
Great stuff coming out of Tucson, but not even that video can hide the fact that Arizona’s defense struggled mightily last season. They allowed 35.8 points per game to go along with 466.8 yards per contest and while Arizona does play at a quick pace offensively, those numbers are bad no matter how you slice them. Injuries played a big role in the defenses demise, but that didn’t stop Rodriguez from canning defensive coordinator and longtime partner Jeff Casteel. He hired Marcel Yates away from Boise State to take his place. Yates is known as a dynamic recruiter and Wildcat fans are hoping he’ll be able to attract top talent to Tucson.
The move was met with mixed reviews from Arizona’s fanbase. Most outsiders assumed Casteel’s defense would bounce back after a difficult year. And as Bill Connelly pointed out in his preview of Arizona’s 2016 season:
We’ll have to wait for the games to start to see how the new pairing of Marcel Yates and Rich Rodriguez is working out, but it’s never easy to bring in a new defensive coordinator with a different scheme and mindset. But, Arizona’s defense is in a similar spot to Oregon State’s; the only way to go is up.
Beaver fans might be trying to forget last years game against Arizona, but here’s a painful reminder anyway, Arizona hammered Oregon State 44-7 and the Beavers defense was gashed for 644 yards, allowing 368 yards on the ground.
The Wildcats welcome back junior quarterback, Anu Solomon. Solomon won the job as a redshirt freshman and has been impressive while healthy. In fact, despite missing almost three full games last season, Solomon still threw for 2,655 yards and 20 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions.
While Anu Solomon is the most experienced quarterback on Arizona’s roster; he still hasn’t outperformed his competition, sophomore Brandon Dawkins, enough to officially be named the starter. It would be a huge surprise if Solomon wasn’t the opening day starter, but Rich Rodriguez is in no rush to hand him the job leading up to their showdown with BYU.
The Wildcats are set at the QB position with Solomon, Dawkins and incoming 4-star recruit Khalil Tate. They also have a talented running back returning in, Nick Wilson. Wilson ran for 725 yards (5.5 YPC) and 8 touchdowns as a sophomore.
Arizona will need to replace their top receiving threat from a year ago (Cayleb Jones). But they have more than enough weapons to fill the void. Including Trey Griffey, the son of MLB hall-of-famer Ken Griffey Jr.
On a sobering note, offensive lineman Zach Hemmila died overnight in his sleep earlier this month. Zach Hemmila was a fifth year senior and was planning to anchor Arizona’s offensive line as the starting center. Arizona athletic director, Greg Byrne announced grief counselors would be available for the team.
Hemmila will be in the hearts and minds of the Arizona players this season. And I can’t begin to imagine the pain and emotions that are being felt. Every season is emotional for the players who put so much time into training and preparing, but the Wildcats will undoubtedly be playing with extra emotion for their teammate this year.
While I do think Arizona will take a step back and miss out on a bowl game this season. It’s tough to see Oregon State winning this game after their brutal 5-game stretch. The Wildcats should continue right where they left off a season ago and score with ease. Oregon State’s offense should answer with a few big plays of their own this time. But, in the end the Beavers won’t be able to stop the run. The Wildcats win it 42-31.