The first marquee matchup of the Rich Rodriguez era arrives this weekend as the No. 18 Oklahoma St. Cowboys make their way to Tucson.
Led by head coach Mike Gundy -- yeah, that guy -- the Cowboys have been as successful as nearly any program in the land the past five years. The Pokes have averaged 9.6 wins per season since 2007, including a 12-win campaign in 2011 that saw the team bring home the Fiesta Bowl. This is a good team, although it is a bit inexperienced on the offensive side of the ball.
Let's take a look at what the Arizona Wildcats must do this weekend to pull out the win.
For those of you who are Breaking Bad fans, one of the more thrilling endings to an episode was the cold, hard face of Walter White as he instructed Jesse to, "run."
There were no further instructions than that, no explanations or in-depth meaning. Run. If I'm Rich Rodriguez on Saturday night, my pre-game speech might just echo Heisenberg's.
If the Wildcats don't run the football effectively this weekend, they will have no chance of winning. Despite losing numerous key players on offense, Oklahoma State flexed their muscles last weekend and put up 84 points against Savannah State. Given the youth and inexperience on defense, the 'Cats will be torn apart if they're on the field all night.
Matt Scott, Ka'Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins must run the ball early and often against the Pokes to not only put points on the board, but eat up the clock. Arizona lost the time of possession battle against Toledo last week and nearly lost the game. They won't be as fortunate this time around.
The Cowboys are going to bring pressure all night. They've forced the most turnovers of anyone the last three years. They'll change up their coverage schemes and bring blitzes from every position, which can be a recipe for disaster for opposing quarterbacks.
Arizona turned the ball over three times last weekend against Toledo, including two fumbles in the red zone. The Wildcats are going to need to be just about perfect if they hope to pull the upset this weekend; it's tough to imagine UA having a chance if they turn the ball over more than once.
The Cowboys are going to score. They've scored 30+ points in every game for about three years now. How they score is going to be a key for the Wildcats.
It may be cliché, but Arizona needs to bend and not break defensively. Despite their shortcomings in the front-seven, the 'Cats did a solid job containing any outside rushing attacks from Toledo and limiting the tailback to a handful of yards. Outside of one blown coverage by Shaquille Richardson, the secondary allowed just one pass for more than 25 yards in the season opener.
If the Wildcats allowed the Pokes to bombard them with deep passes all night, it's going to be a long four quarters. Keep everything in front of you, wrap up on tackles and knock as much clock as possible off. It's all about limiting possessions this weekend, and that starts by forcing long, time-consuming drives.
As much as I'd like to call a win for an Arizona this weekend, I don't see it happening. It's just too early in the RichRod era to beat a team as good and talented as Oklahoma State is. The crowd at Arizona Stadium should be loud and the offense will make some plays, but the defense simply wears down late as the Cowboys win 42-24.
For more on the Wildcats, check out AZ Desert Swarm.