GAME NOTES: Arizona will try for its first 5-0 start since the 1998 campaign when the ninth-ranked Wildcats host the Oregon State Beavers in a Pac-10 showdown at Arizona Stadium.
Oregon State might be the best 2-2 team in the country, with losses coming against fifth-ranked TCU (30-21) and fourth-ranked Boise State (37-24). After the loss to Boise State to close out September the Beavers bounced back with a hard-fought, 31-28 decision over Arizona State last weekend.
Arizona might have been off this past weekend, but that did not stop the Wildcats from jumping in the polls five slots to the ninth spot. Coach Mike Stoops' squad opened the year with convincing victories over Toledo and The Citadel, but found much tougher competition over their following two matchups. After holding off a late surge by Iowa to earn a 34-27 victory, the Wildcats were in a street fight against California, and narrowly defeated their Pac-10 foe, 10-9. This will be the fourth consecutive home game for Arizona, which has claimed a victory in 15 of its last 18 contests played in Tucson.
When looking at the overall series, the Wildcats have a strong, 21-11-1 edge over Oregon State. However, when peering deeper into the series the Beavers have had the Wildcats' number over the past decade, winning nine of the last 11 meetings, including four consecutive showdowns in Tucson.
The Beavers are coming off possibly their best offensive showing on the season, as the team racked up 416 total yards in the win over Arizona State.
Jacquizz Rodgers led the ground game, which has been inconsistent on the year, with 145 yards and two touchdowns. Although Oregon State is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry as a team, Rodgers is still dominating the opposition, rushing for 398 yards and six scores on 84 attempts.
What opened up the holes up front against Arizona State was the success of Ryan Katz and the passing attack. Katz threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns in the matchup and without James Rodgers on the field (concussion) Katz leaned on sophomore Jordan Bishop, who hauled in four receptions for 86 yards.
Bishop has improved in each game for Oregon State and coach Riley feels his quick maturation will help the offense moving forward this season.
"Jordan Bishop's progress is very important to the progress of our offense," said coach Riley. "I think that he needs to continue to make plays and learn more about the position and become an expert in it and a reliable player there. He certainly has a lot of ability, and what every player is striving for is matching their ability with their production. He's still in the learning process. He took steps toward doing that last week."
With Bishop's progression and the return of James Rodgers this weekend the Beavers could continue to have success through the air.
Oregon State's win was impressive this past weekend, but there are still plenty of question marks surrounding this defense, in particular, its ability to stop the run.
The Beavers were punished for 161 yards and two scores against ASU, but did hold the Sun Devils to just 3.2 yards per attempt. However, on the season this unit is allowing 194.8 ypg and have surrendered eight rushing touchdowns in four games.
The Beavers were able to overcome their performance against the run, by playing lights out against Arizona State's passing attack. Oregon State held the Sun Devils to just 203 yards through the air, and also finished with three interceptions and six sacks.
It was clearly the best showing against the pass this year for Oregon State, which totaled just two sacks in its first three contests. Defensive end Stephen Paea had two of the team's sacks in the win over Arizona State and coach Riley believes the young tackle is turning into a dangerous player for this unit.
"Well Stephen Paea is very young in his football life compared to most of the guys that are playing major college football," said coach Riley. "He started I think when he was a senior in high school, played a year of junior college, then came to us from Snow College. He's in about his fifth year of football. He has some major talent that is very, very obvious. His strength and quickness are outstanding. He is learning, I think, probably every time he plays more and more about using those abilities to actually play the game. That's why he's so intriguing as a player; to have seen his physical talent then watch him grow as a player has been a lot of fun."
The Wildcats went into their bye week with a 4-0 ledger, but coach Stoops had plenty to work on, as his offense laid an egg in its victory over California. The Wildcats did not move the ball well, but found a way to march down the field on their final drive, which led to a three-yard touchdown pass and catch between Juron Criner and Nick Foles.
"We're spent," coach Stoops said. "I think our fans are spent. It was a flat night all the way around. You could just kind of feel it after such an emotional game a week ago. But if you're going to win a championship or you're going to compete for one, you're going to have to find a way to win. Certainly we found a way to win tonight."
Foles had the touchdown pass, but finished with just 212 yards and an interception and is looking to bounce back from his worst showing on the season. Despite the lackluster performance, Foles has been one of the top signal callers in the conference, completing 74.5 percent of his throws for 1,089 yards and has tossed eight touchdowns against four interceptions.
Criner, who hauled in the winning score, now has 19 receptions for a team-best 352 yards, and he is one of just many toys Foles has in his toy chest. David Douglas comes into this weekend with a team-high 22 receptions, while Bug Wright joins Criner and Douglas with two receiving touchdowns.
If the Wildcats are going to reach that next level of success though, the ground game must find more consistency. Arizona is currently averaging just 120.2 ypg, while Nic Grigsby is leading the way with 252 yards and five scores. In the win over Cal, the Wildcats were bottled up for 99 yards on 3.8 yards per attempt, so they will definitely be looking for a better showing this Saturday against an Oregon State defense that has struggled against the run.
The offense did not show up till the final quarter against Cal, but the defense for coach Stoops made its presence felt throughout the matchup.
Cal scored 135 points in its first three games, but the Wildcats were able to shut down the Golden Bears, limiting this juggernaut offense to just three field goals.
Arizona showed some cracks against the run, surrendering 146 yards in the victory, but overall the Wildcats have been stout up front, limiting the opposition to just 101.2 rushing ypg, while not allowing one touchdown on the ground.
On top of the team's play against the run, the Wildcats have also defended the pass well, holding opponents to just 129.5 ypg through the air, which ranks the team fourth in the nation in that category.
The schedule makers were not kind to the Beavers, who already have faced TCU in Texas and Boise State on the blue turf. Now coach Riley's squad must battle Arizona in Tucson, where the Wildcats have won 15 of their last 18 contests. Along with home field advantage, the Wildcats also possess one of the most complete defensive units in the country, and should be able to shut down an inconsistent Oregon State offense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona 27, Oregon State 13