Scott Olmos-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
Arizona and Oregon State meet for an intriguing Pac-12 matchup in Tucson.
Arizona's game with Oregon State this weekend is a very big one. It might just define their season.
The Wildcats, 3-1 this year, are at a crossroads of sorts. After three promising performances to begin the year, they fell flat on their faces against Oregon. Now we get to see what this team is really made of.
UA is currently in a stretch of facing five ranked teams in a six-week span. They lost their first game with the Ducks, which was to be expected. Now the Beavers come to town, and they're followed by games with Stanford, Washington and USC.
If Arizona can win on Saturday night, they're two-thirds of the way to bowl eligibility and are likely back in the top-25 rankings. With three tough-yet-winnable games on the horizon, Rich Rodriguez and the coaching staff should have no problem getting the Wildcats ready to play what might be their most important month in the last 15 years.
Lose, however, and you worry about a spiral effect similar to the one we saw last season. Players get frustrated with their level of play, injuries are suddenly that more daunting and before you know it the team is on their way to a four- or five-game losing streak.
That's why this game with No. 18 Oregon State is so important. A season isn't usually defined by a game in late September, but that may just be the case with this year's schedule.
The Key Storyline: Matt Scott's health
If Matt Scott isn't being bothered by the hip injury that slowed him down against Oregon, he is capable of leading Arizona to a win. If he is limited yet again -- and the coaching staff has kept everything pretty quiet on the senior quarterback's true level of health this week -- the Cats could be in for a long night against a rapidly-improving OSU defense.
What To Watch For: Arizona's offense vs. OSU's defense in the red zone
The Wildcats were in the red zone six times last week, including four trips in the first half, and did not score a single point. It was beyond frustrating to watch, especially since the offense has been so good this season. Given the kicking game's struggles and the Beavers' ability to score points in a hurry, UA has to focus on getting touchdowns in the red zone.
Even if it means going for it a couple of times on fourth-and-short or working in a fake play or two, it's probably in the Cats' best interest to go for broke early in the game to shake off any lingering mental effects of last weekend's disaster.
This game could go a bunch of different ways. Can Scott stay healthy for four quarters? How does Oregon State respond to the game-day temperatures in the high-90s, and how do they fare with back-to-back conference road games?
Are there any lingering effects from UA's loss to Oregon, or do they stay true to RichRod's 24-hour rule and put the game behind them? How does Sean Mannion play against Arizona's turnover-happy secondary?
What's the crowd atmosphere like at Arizona Stadium?
I think we're going to see a great game in Tucson this weekend. I really do. Expect the score to stay close throughout, and in the end it's Arizona winning on a late touchdown score, 34-31.