On Saturday, Pac-12-leading quarterback Matt Scott will face the Oregon Ducks defense, which has yielded an average of 36 points per game to Arizona over the past five years. During that time span, the Wildcats have only won one game against the Ducks, back in 2007.
While Oregon is currently riding a four-game winning streak over Arizona, this season's matchup is the first time in history that both teams have come into the game undefeated. New territory is something that can come with many unexpected outcomes.
Many questions surround Saturday's game. How good is Arizona under new Head Coach Rich Rodriguez? Will Oregon struggle against the first real test of the year? Two things are almost certain. One, both teams will score in bunches. Expect a shootout. Two, the winning squad will be the team that can make the most meaningful defensive stops.
Oregon boasts a fast and aggressive defense, but has struggled early this season. The Ducks have given up an average of 24.3 points per game, which ranks 68th nationally. That number could rise if Scott is able to keep the Arizona offense rolling.
The Ducks' front line may have something to say about that, as it has been effective stopping the opposing run game. Led by senior defensive end Dion Jordan, the line has given up 157.3 rushing yards per game, yielding just two touchdowns on the ground. Ka'Deem Carey will be looking to change that on Saturday.
Arizona has also found success in the air this season and that may be what the Wildcats elect to go back to early on in Eugene. The Ducks were set in the secondary with fifth year senior John Boyett leading the charge, but Boyett was lost for the season to a knee injury. Replacing him is junior Avery Patterson, but before last weekend, he had started only two games at the collegiate level.
Oregon may be relying too heavily on him being teamed up with fellow junior Brian Jackson at the safety positions, as Jackson had never started a game before this season.
Oregon's defense may practice against a similar offense due to the schemes that Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly and Rodriguez like to run, but Oregon's defense has yet to be tested in a game this season like Arizona's offense has.
How the Duck defense reacts to being pushed for the first time this season will be a main factor in determining which team goes to Sunday undefeated.
Players to watch:
#96 DE, Dion Jordan – The senior defensive end is second on the team in tackles, which is impressive because he is a starter and the starters haven't seen much time in the second half of games. Jordan is also one of the team leaders in sacks, making him one of the biggest threats to Matt Scott. Look for him to pressure the offensive line early and try to get Scott out of sync.
#21 FS, Avery Patterson – With John Boyett out for the season, Patterson filled in the starter role last weekend and did a decent job. He isn't quite the superstar that Boyett is, but he is a quality replacement and it shows the depth of the Oregon defense having him step in right away without a huge drop-off in talent. Patterson has nine tackles on the season against lower-quality opponents and will look to possibly double that total this weekend.
#12 SS, Brian Jackson – Jackson started his first game this season after sitting behind All-Pac-12 safety Eddie Pleasant. Since the opener against Arkansas State, Jackson has seemed to get more comfortable each week.
He leads the team in pass breakups and has thirteen tackles on the season. The real challenge for Jackson on Saturday is whether he can play an entire game as a starter. It is something that he hasn't been asked to do since high school and it could be interesting to see who he is matched up with in the second half.
#14 CB, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu– With Arizona's fumble-prone offense, Ekpre-Olomu can become a real problem. He has already forced two fumbles so far this season. Rodriguez was concerned about ball control after Richard Morrison fumbled and muffed a punt last weekend, which makes Ekpre-Olomu a very dangerous matchup.
#46 WLB, Michael Clay – Clay is a leader on the defense. He is coming off of one of his least productive games of the season. However, those numbers could be skewed because Oregon led 35-7 at halftime. Clay will definitely be one of the keys to Oregon's defense as he should be one of the players that Scott focuses on when reading the defense.
Keys to the game:
1. Attack early: The Wildcats cannot fall behind early and expect to win the game. Once Oregon starts scoring in bunches, the situation can get out of hand quickly, dooming Arizona. Arizona needs to get some points on the board early and let the Ducks know it means business.
2. Ball security: As already mentioned above, Oregon has guys that hit hard and can knock the ball loose. Arizona has had trouble keeping the ball off the turf in the first three games, but has already faced a hard-hitting Oklahoma State team. The Wildcats can't give possessions away by coughing up the ball and expect to come out with the upset.
3. Low penalty numbers: So far, Arizona has done a good job correcting the mistakes that were made in week one against Toledo. The Wildcats haven't had any big plays called back in the previous two weeks and should look to keep things that way on Saturday.
Oregon has an aggressive defensive line that will try to get to Scott early, which could put linemen in sticky situations. Don't grab any jerseys.
4. Stay calm: Autzen Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the country. It is so bad that Arizona used their extraordinary sound system to blast the sounds of the Ducks' stadium at practice this week.
The Wildcats have already played on the national stage this season, but this is the first road trip. It is important for Arizona to stay calm and play its game.
5. Make plays: Rodriguez joked after the South Carolina State game that Arizona's record first down numbers meant that they weren't making enough big plays. Well, that is absolutely true and may not be a joke for much longer.
The Wildcats need to capitalize on opportunities and move the ball effectively. Short runs and passing routes are fine, but consecutive three yard gains aren't going to upset the Ducks.