The slow start for the Beavers has been somewhat of a surprise, as head coach Mike Riley's team was tabbed in the preseason as the Pac-12 North Division's fourth best team. While losses to Wisconsin and on the road to Arizona State are understandable, certainly no one foresaw the Beavers falling in week one to Sacramento State in overtime at home.
Although losses in four consecutive weeks is something that Arizona fans may have found unfathomable at the beginning of the season, there is much more to be learned from this week than from the last four combined.
Oregon State has one of the worst offenses in the Pac-12, something that an Arizona defense that has faced four of the country's best over the past month, is certainly looking forward to. However, the Beavers have a trio of receivers that will once again challenge an UA secondary that has struggled so far this season.
Defensively, OSU's third-ranked pass defense may present problems for the Arizona passing attack, but its ninth ranked rush defense gives the running game an opportunity to have a good game and use the momentum from the USC game to get its confidence level back on track.
Arizona will be looking to recapture its 2009 effort against Oregon State, a 37-32 victory in which then-sophomore Nick Foles received his first career start and made the most of it by completing 74 percent of his throws for 254 yards and three touchdowns.
We'll know a lot more about the mental and physical toughness of this Arizona team after this weekend's trip to Corvallis. After all, Arizona's next seven opponents, including the Beavers, have a record of 17-16.
This season is far from over for Arizona, and it needs to get back on track Saturday and put the past four weeks in the rear view mirror.
Players to watch:
#1- WR, James Rodgers: Last season against Arizona, Rodgers hauled in seven receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown all before tearing his ACL in the second quarter of the game. He's back after receiving a medical redshirt for a fifth season, and he'll undoubtedly be looking to get his revenge against the team that ended his year in 2010.
#2- WR, Markus Wheaton: When Rodgers went down with the knee injury, Wheaton stepped up and caught seven passes for 113 yards and a score. This season, his 97.5 yards per game rank him fourth in the Pac-12, and he has the speed and elusiveness to be a nightmare for an UA secondary that has had problems slowing down receivers so far this season.
#4- QB, Sean Mannion: No one is happier than Mike Stoops that Mannion took the starting job from Ryan Katz, who lit the Wildcats up for 393 yards and three total touchdowns in last year's game in Tucson. Just a redshirt-freshman, Mannion has had problems so far getting the Beavers in the end zone this season, but has plenty of play makers at his disposal to have a good game in any given week.
#14- CB, Jordan Poyer: The junior corner has done well in his first season as a starter, as he's recorded a pair of interceptions, has three pass break ups and five passes defended as well. He'll certainly look to take a page out of Nickell Robey's book to effectively defend Juron Criner and Arizona's other wide receivers, and will certainly be making plays on most passes thrown his direction.
#10- S, Lance Mitchell: Mitchell is a captain of the team and is the leader of the defense. He has a very solid all-around game and is great in run support. He'll likely be around the ball at all times on Saturday and has the ability to make a game changing play and swing the momentum for Oregon State at any point.
#95- DE, Scott Crichton: The redshirt-freshman defensive end has been a nightmare for opposing offensive tackles so far, posting three sacks and seven tackles for loss. Despite his youth, he'll be a tough matchup for Arizona's young offensive tackles and will have to be held in check if Arizona wants to maintain any momentum offensively.
Keys to the game:
1. Contain Wheaton: Without question, Wheaton is Mannion's first option when he takes to the air. Much like USC got the ball to Robert Woods whenever it could, OSU will certainly do the same with Wheaton. Keeping Wheaton in check would make things difficult for a quarterback who has struggled thus far in his first season.
2. Pressure Mannion: As alluded to earlier, the Oregon State quarterback is short on experience and has had difficulties adjusting to the college game. Constant pressure on him would keep him from getting into a rhythm and would perhaps prolong his slow start to the season.
3. Running game: Oregon State has had a tough time stopping opponents on the ground, just as UA has had a tough time moving the ball on the ground. One has to give on Saturday, and it would be very beneficial towards an Arizona victory if it can get Keola Antolin or Ka'Deem Carey going from the beginning of the day.
4. Tackle: The wide receivers for Oregon State are an elusive, explosive bunch that will make big plays if they aren't brought to the ground. UA needs to wrap up and take Wheaton, Rodgers, and Bishop down in order to prevent small gains from turning into big ones.
5. Leadership: Arizona's struggles over the past month have been well documented, and if you look all the way back to last season, UA is 0-9 in its past nine games against Division-I opponents. Senior leaders like Nick Foles, Robert Golden, and Trevin Wade need to step up for the team and lead by example and play with passion, desire and intensity in order to remind this team what it's like to win again.