Oregon’s offense gets a ton of attention and rightfully so, but the Ducks have a talented defense that is capable of giving opponents fits.
Armstead is not going to put up huge numbers, but he is one of the better players on the defense with the amount of push he is able to get.
The numbers are more likely to go to Buckner, who has 61 tackles with ten of them coming for loss. If a defensive end is going to get pressure, it is going to be Buckner as opposed to a player like Armstead, who is more likely to succeed at holding his ground.
Junior Alex Balducci will get the start at nose guard and the 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior is another player that is solid in the containment game, but is not going to put up a lot of stats.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior has eight tackles for loss and four sacks. He has also forced two fumbles, recovering both.
The strength of Oregon’s linebackers is inside. Junior Rodney Hardrick has 62 tackles and is among the best on the team at getting to the quarterback, as shown by his six quarterback hurries.
Next to him 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior Joe Walker. He is third on Oregon with 69 tackles and eight of them for loss. In addition, he scored a 100-yard touchdown off a fumble recovery against Utah.
Junior Tyson Coleman is the last linebacker of the bunch and has played well of late. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound junior has 37 tackles and two sacks in addition to an interception.
If there is a weakness on the Oregon defense, it is probably among the linebackers. Arizona was able to exploit each one in the first meeting this season and it will be interesting to see what they can do if the Wildcats can get them in the open field.
Oregon’s best defender is 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. He’s not a big turnover guy, but can cover the best of them and did a nice job against Cayleb Jones in the first meeting, holding him to three catches for 50 yards.
On the other side is 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior Troy Hill, who we consider to be underrated.
Hill has 16 pass breakups this season, which easily leads the Ducks. Like Ekpre-Olomu, Hill is not going to force a lot of turnovers, but he is going to make life very difficult for the man he is covering.
The player in the secondary that does force turnovers is 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior safety Erick Dargan.
Dargan has five interceptions this season and has also put up double digit tackles in three of his last seven contests. He not only leads the Pac-12 in interceptions, but also is the team leader in tackles with 81.
Sophomore Reggie Daniels gets the start at the other safety spot. His only interception of the season came in the first meeting against Arizona and he has at least six tackles in seven of his last 12 games.
Players to Watch:
#9, DE Arik Armstead: Armstead missed the majority of the Arizona game with an injury and like Oregon’s other injuries, a big deal has been made of it. It will be interesting to see if the defensive line can do drastically better with his presence on Friday.
#91, OLB Tony Washington: Although Washington’s penalty in the first meeting may not have cost the Ducks the game, it definitely hurt. Will Washington look to have a big game as retribution? It is certainly possible and he is one of Oregon’s best defenders, so either way Arizona needs to keep an eye on him.
#14, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu: Arizona actually did relatively well against Ekpre-Olomu and actually went right at him at one point late in the game. Still, he has enough talent to shut down the man he is covering, which is why he is a major player to watch.
Keys to the Game
Get first downs: Rich Rodriguez has been consistent in saying one of the main reasons for success against Oregon has been the ability to consistently get first downs. The longer the drives, the better for the Wildcats.
Establish the run: In the past two season, Arizona has been able to run the ball pretty well against Oregon. The worst case scenario is that the Wildcats become one dimensional, which is why we expect Arizona to go to the run early and often.
Take chances: You aren’t going to beat a team like Oregon being conservative. Now, this doesn’t mean make bad decisions, but Arizona has to be willing to take some chances to get the upset.