Arizona's defense has had difficulty stopping opposing offenses going back to the end of last season. UA has allowed exactly 37 points in each of its last two contests and it is not going to get any easier this weekend.
The Wildcats will host the Oregon Ducks and their high powered offense at Arizona Stadium this Saturday. The Ducks come in holding a 2-1 record and are averaging 50.7 points per game over the first three weeks of play. It's an offense that can strike quickly either through the air or on the ground and Arizona is going to have its hands full in this affair.
UO runs the ball frequently, but it's hardly the most conventional approach. The Ducks run different formations and will use multiple players in their rushing attack.
Heisman Trophy candidate LaMichael James leads the way for Oregon. The junior has totaled 325 yards on the ground on just 42 carries through three games this season. James is also third on his team in both receptions and receiving yards. The running back has nine catches for 144 yards and a touchdown.
Behind James is freshman De'Anthony Thomas, who has been impressive early. Thomas has 170 yards on 22 carries – an average of 7.7 yards per carry. Like James, Thomas has made a big impact in the passing game, catching 10 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns.
Another freshman – Tra Carson – has run well early. He has rushed for116 yards on 18 carries.
Quarterback Darron Thomas is always a factor with his feet. While he has only run the ball five times through three games, he has 47 yards on those carries and possesses the ability to take the ball the distance at any point when he gets into space.
As a passer, Thomas has been very impressive early in the season. The Ducks signal caller has completed 55 out of 88 passes for 741 yards and 10 touchdowns. His accuracy has been where it needs to be, completing 62.5 percent of his passes while throwing only one interception.
Thomas is especially dangerous outside of the pocket as he has the capability of both throwing on the run and taking off and picking up yards on the ground.
His favorite receiving target has been wideout Lavasier Tuinei. The senior leads the team in receptions with 14, receiving yards with 162, and is tied in touchdown receptions with 3. Tuinei is a big receiver who gives Thomas someone to rely on over the middle and in the red zone.
Thomas spreads the ball around to all of his weapons. Receiver Rahsaan Vaughn has caught five passes for 109 yards and a score while tight end Colt Lyerla has only three receptions, but all three have gone for six.
There are also several other weapons – including tight end David Paulson and receivers Josh Huff, Justin Hoffman, Will Murphy and Eric Dungy – that Thomas can incorporate into the Ducks tricky offensive scheme.
Oregon's offensive line has done its job rather well through three games. The unit has only given up one sack and is doing its part in helping UO to an average of 6.9 yards per carry. The Ducks have had to replace two of last year's starters, but with three players on the line back from last year, there has been more than enough experience in place to help the newcomers adjust to playing in a starting role at the Pac-12 level.
UO's offense has been its identity for several years and that looks to be the case once again in 2011. Arizona has its hands full with Oregon and will need to play much better than it has over its past two contests on the defensive side of the ball in order to pull off the upset.
Five keys –
1. Stay at home – The Ducks thrive off of defenses over-pursuing. They often bait their opponents into making bad decisions and turn those into big gains. Arizona's individual players on defense must stay in position or they risk getting burned.
2. Contain James – The chances of completely stopping LaMichael James are very slim. What UA must do is figure out a way to contain him as much as possible. If the Wildcats can figure out a way to accomplish that it could hinder the Ducks' offense.
3. Keep Thomas in the pocket – The Oregon quarterback is deadly on the run, so UA could limit him in a big way if it can keep him from escaping the pocket.
4. Play physical at the line – Oregon is more about speed than power, so if the Wildcats can successfully utilize their power on the defensive line, they could take one step closer to neutralizing the Ducks speed.
5. Avoid quick scores – Oregon's offense is notorious for its ability to score in the matter of seconds at any given moment. UA must be alert every play on defense to avoid these big plays. The more plays Oregon takes to score on a drive, the better Arizona's chances get at stopping them.
Oregon offensive preview
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