GAME NOTES: The top-ranked Oregon Ducks attempt to earn a second-straight Pac-10 title, as they welcome the 20th-ranked Arizona Wildcats to Eugene for a key conference matchup at Autzen Stadium on Friday night.
Mike Stoops' Wildcats can certainly make things interesting if they were to pull off the upset against Oregon. The team was idle this past weekend and certainly needed the break following back-to-back losses to Stanford (42-17) and USC (24-21). The loss to the Trojans dropped Arizona to 7-3 overall and 4-3 in league play.
Chip Kelly has his sights on a national title shot, but to do so, the Ducks will need to win two more games, starting this week with Arizona. Oregon also sat idle last weekend, coming off its closest game to date, a 15-13 victory at California. With the win, the Ducks moved to 10-0 on the season and 7-0 in conference play. The team is a game up on Stanford in the standings with a key victory over the Cardinal in hand. With a win over Arizona, the team will at the very least earn a trip to Pasadena for this year's Rose Bowl. The Ducks will close things out with its annual rivalry game against Oregon State next weekend.
Oregon got a crucial score from cornerback Cliff Harris on a 64-yard punt return. Harris had a healthy view of the narrow victory.
"Every game isn't going to be a 50-point blowout. You need luck sometimes, but luck favors the prepared."
Arizona is facing the number one team in the country for ninth time in school history, pulling off upsets of USC in 1981 and Washington in 1992.
This series favors Oregon, 21-14. The Ducks won a memorable game last season, posting a 44-41 double-overtime victory last season in Tucson.
Despite losing two straight games heading into this contest, the Wildcats remain a dangerous team, one that relies heavily on the pass. The team is averaging 29.9 ppg on 444.5 yards of total offense, with just over 300 of that (300.6) coming through the air.
Quarterback Nick Foles has had a strong season to this point. The 6-5 junior has started eight games and has completed over 70 percent of his passes, for 2,201 yards and 13 TDs. J Criner has clearly been the go-to-guy down the field, as the 6-4 junior leads the team in receptions (64), receiving yards (982) and TD catches (six). The ground game plays second-fiddle in this offense, but tailbacks Keola Antolin (5.2 ypc, seven TDs) and Nic Grigsby (5.2 ypc, eight TDs) are a solid one-two punch. Grigsby however, is a little banged up and is listed as questionable for this contest with an ankle injury.
The real question in this game will be how well the Wildcats respond defensively to everything Oregon is going to throw at them. The unit has done a nice job for the most part in 2010, allowing just 18.1 ppg and 319.3 yards of total offense.
Still, the team struggled with USC's ground attack, and Stoops knows the team has to shore things up with Oregon on the docket.
"Our inability to stop the run consistently hurt us. Marc Tyler is great on the vertical push. He ran well all night, and some of that can be attributed to our lack of discipline. They pounded us pretty hard tonight, and we just have to get better."
With 27 sacks on the season, this is a defense that knows how to get to the quarterback. Leading the charge in that regard is senior end Ricky Elmore, who has team-highs of 10.0 TFLs and eight sacks. Junior LB Paul Vassallo has been all over the field this season and paces the team in total tackles by a large margin with 80 stops.
Despite showing a chink or two in the armor at California two weeks ago, Oregon's ability to move the ball up and down the field at will seems to be a constant. The Ducks are among the national leaders in most offensive categories including scoring (first at 50.7 ppg), rushing (sixth at 291.1 ypg) and total offense (second at 542.2 ypg).
It is a pick-you-poison offense, with QB Darron Thomas both lighting up the sky and adding to a potent ground game. Thomas has completed 61.2 percent of this throws on the year for 2,225 yards and 23 TDs, while rushing for 434 yards and an additional four scores. His top target in the passing game is wideout Jeff Maehl, who is having a phenomenal season with 59 catches, for 830 yards and 11 scores. Of course, the passing game is made that much more potent with all the attention paid to All-American candidate LaMichael James in the backfield. The sophomore is one of the real favorites in the Heisman race this year, rushing for 1,422 yards and 17 TDs.
The Oregon defense doesn't get the press that the offense does, but this side of the ball has plenty of speed and athleticism as well. The Ducks are allowing just 17.2 ppg this season and have been particularly strong against the pass, allowing just 189.1 yards per game through the air. Of the 19 total touchdowns allowed by the defense this season, only eight have come via the pass.
Senior Casey Matthews is having a huge season as a defensive leader for Oregon. The linebacker currently leads the team in tackles (60), with 6.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, three INTs and three fumble recoveries. Both senior tackle Brandon Bair (38 tackles, 13.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks) and senior end Kenny Rowe (35 tackles, 12.0 TFLs, 6.0 sacks) have been superb in disrupting things in the opposition's backfield.
Oregon managed a season-low 317 yards of offense at California, but expect the Ducks to get back on track on Friday. Arizona will put up a fight, but in the end, it will be a matter of too much offensive firepower in Autzen.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oregon 41, Arizona 20