Returning from last year's defense are six starters, one along the defensive line, one linebacker and all four starters in the secondary. The Oregon defense, after giving up 40 points to LSU in the opening week of the season, has bounced back nicely to give up only 27 points in its past two games.
While only half of the defense is returning, each starter for Oregon made appearances at some point during the 2010 season, and nine of the 11 members of the first team are upper-classmen.
The lone returner in the trenches is 6-foot-3, 273-pound senior Terrell Turner. While he has yet to record a sack in this season, he does have 5.5 career quarterback takedowns and was named the team's most improved player a season ago.
Opposite of Turner is converted linebacker Brandon Hanna, who brings athleticism to the defensive end position. The 6-foot-2, 234-pound senior has 12 tackles and an interception on the season, although he too has yet to record a sack this season.
The inexperience of the Oregon defense is in the interior of the defensive line, as it features a pair of underclassmen in Wayne Kelikipi and Ricky Heimuli. While both are considered to be future anchors of the UO defense, they have combined for just five tackles on the season and have yet to make much of an impact on the defense this year.
With so much inexperience along the defensive line, the transition into starting for two new Ducks linebackers has been made even more difficult. Making things even more troublesome for the UO linebackers is the injury to Michael Clay, who is the team's leading tackler through three games with 21 stops.
Clay, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound junior, missed last week's game against Missouri State with a left leg injury and his status for the Arizona game is unknown. 5-foot-11, 221-pound junior Dewitt Stuckey is likely to see the playing time in his place, and through three games he ranks third on the team with 18 tackles, but he's short on experience in his career.
Returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for the entire 2010 season is redshirt-junior Kiko Alonso, who in 2009 got plenty of snaps as the primary backup at the position. At 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds, Alonso is a physical presence and has 11 tackles thus far this season, and he'll have to be physical in the run game backing up the inexperienced defensive tackles.
The headliner of the front seven is Butkus Award Watch List linebacker Josh Kaddu, who started every one of UO's games a season ago. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior has one of the team's three sacks to go along with 11 tackles and will be asked to provide leadership to a front seven still trying to get acclimated to the college game.
Without question the Oregon secondary is the strength of the entire defense, as it returns all four starters from last year and features one of the nation's top cornerbacks in Cliff Harris, a former teammate of Robert Golden's at Fresno (Calif.) Edison High School.
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound junior broke onto the scene in 2010 with a Pac-10 leading 6 interceptions while leading the nation with 23 passes defended as well as four punt return touchdowns on his way to All-American honors as a returner.
This season, Harris is a preseason-All-American by many publications at cornerback, and figures to be one of the nation's best again this year. He missed the team's first game of the season against LSU due to suspension, and has only recorded one tackle in the team's two other games this season.
Nevertheless, Harris is a game changer as both a corner and returner, and should be avoided whenever possible to avoid a costly mistake on offense or special teams.
As a result, 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior Anthony Gildon figures to see a lot of balls thrown his way in Saturday's contest. He made just six starts in 2010, but so far this season has proved up to
the challenge with 14 tackles and three pass breakups to this point in the season. At safety, 5-foot-10, 198-pound junior John Boyett is a returning All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention selection and appears to be picking up right where he left off in 2010, when he ranked second on the team with 78 tackles. In 2011, Boyett is third on the team with 15 tackles and is a player Oregon will rely on to make an impact in the run game and force Arizona to throw in order to advance the ball.
The final starter in Oregon's defense is rover Eddie Pleasant who, like Boyett, is another strong player in defense of the run. The 5-foot-11, 213-pound senior has recorded 14 tackles so far this season and will combine with Boyett to provide support to the maturing Oregon front seven.
Keys to the game:
1. Run the ball: It could be argued that aside from NAU, Oregon has the weakest front seven of Arizona's last three opponents. Stanford exposed Arizona for not having a run game in last Saturday's game, and whether it's Keola Antolin or Ka'Deem Carey, UA needs to have some success on the ground.
2. Be physical: Oregon is a defense that thrives on quickness and speed, so Arizona should look to flex its muscles and push UO around a bit in the trenches to help free up the running backs and spring them for big gains.
3. 18 catches combined for Buckner and Criner: It's clear that while Arizona has several receivers that are capable of hauling in passes, Buckner and Criner are the team's two biggest big play threats at this time. In a game in which Oregon figures to score early and often due to its offensive prowess, Arizona needs to maximize its touches for its two biggest weapons and give them as many chances as possible to make plays.
4. 100% Red Zone Efficiency: All too often in football, a good drive is brought to a screeching halt by a missed field goal or failed chance at putting points on the board. When that happens repeatedly, it not only keeps you behind on the score board, but it also decreases morale and confidence in the team. Nick Foles and Alex Zendejas have to put up points inside the 20; not only to keep up with Oregon, but to keep their teammates' chins up as well.
5. Time of Possession: Keeping Oregon's offense off the field may be the best way of keeping them off the scoreboard, and so Arizona should look to be as methodical as possible in driving down the field. A long drive to start the game would help keep the crowd in the game, and LaMichael James, DeAnthony Thomas, and Darron Thomas out of it.