Pac-12 Title on the line in rematch

Arizona and Oregon will meet up in the Pac-12 Championship game on Friday. Read on to find out about the game, including what Rich Rodriguez thinks about the rematch, how Mark Helfrich sees the game, and more.

The day has finally come.

Arizona and Oregon will face off in the Pac-12 Championship game with plenty of postseason dreams on the line.

The game is a rematch of one played earlier this year in which the Wildcats were able to win 31-24 in Eugene. Even though Arizona won, Rich Rodriguez believes that the game will have a different feeling to it with the two teams having already played.

“I think it is a little bit different dynamic,” Rodriguez said. “Certainly we are both probably going to look at film from our game earlier in the season and break that down numerous times and go back to our scouting reports before, but you also have to look at what has happened in the last five or six weeks as well.

“Sometimes you have injuries or sometimes you have things that force you to change not philosophically, but change a few things scheme wise.”

Oregon knows that it has to play better than in the previous meeting, but Mark Helfrich doesn't believe that he needs to change the way he is going to prepare for the Championship.

“That's again part of the name of the game,” Helfrich said. “It’s kind of that well they know that we know that they know that we know. So let's do the opposite kind of a deal.

“There's a lot of stuff going back to defending this type of offense, there's certain things, whether it's what coach Casteel has done throughout his career or we've done throughout our history that are fundamental against Scheme A.

“There's certain things you're not going to change. We're not going to change things we believe a ton in for some opponent. They've done a great job. Our guys are playing harder, they're playing smarter and now it's just a different challenge week to week.”

Both teams have been preparing all week for the game, but after the kickoff, it comes down to the players on the field. One of the biggest matchups in the game will be between the conference's top offensive and defensive performers: Marcus Mariota and Scooby Wright III.

In the first round, Wright got the better of the Oregon quarterback, stripping the ball free late in the game to seal the victory for the Wildcats. Oregon recognizes how good of a player the linebacker is and will need to game plan for him.

“That guy's a stud, he's one of my favorite guys to watch in our conference,” Helfrich said. “Unfortunately, when he's playing against us or we're looking forward to playing against him we have to handle the business end of him.

“Just a great football player. He lines up at middle linebacker a lot, gets protected by that nose guard. They do a great job of moving the front and him behind it. They line him up at defensive end and he'll rush off the edge, he'll rush up the middle.

“He's got a great feel for how somebody's trying to block him or how schematically you're trying to block him. And either overpowering or his athleticism is good enough to counter that stuff. He's a great player.”

On the other side is Mariota, who really started heating up in the games following the loss, winning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and sitting as a frontrunner for the Heisman trophy. The Wildcats will need to find a way to neutralize him in order to be successful.

“I don’t know if you can say we have stopped him,” Rodriguez said. “If you look back at his stats, he had a whole lot of yards and a lot of big plays, but we got a couple turnovers.

“You’re talking about a guy who is probably going to win the Heisman trophy and a first round pick. I don’t know if maybe he can declare now and get out before Friday, but he has really been a phenomenal player.

“He’s been really good against us too, we’ve just been lucky to be able to get some things offensively to keep him off the field more often.”

The Wildcats will also need to find an answer for the Ducks' freshman running back Royce Freeman, who has steadily been increasing his stock since the first meeting as well.

"He’s as big and fast as anybody we have played," Rodriguez said. "We tried to recruit him and of course I wish we would have got him, but now we have to play against him.

"I think he is going to be an All-American. I didn’t think we would have to see him again, but he is a big, fast, physical football player and a great young man."

The coaches are focused in on getting their teams prepared, but the Arizona players know that they need to be prepared as well.

"Everybody is focused," Arizona defensive lineman Reggie Gilbert said. "You could probably hear a pin drop by how intense and focused everybody is. We’re all in tune and we know we have a chance to do something special."

Both teams have a few players who were injured during the first meeting. Oregon offensive lineman Jake Fisher missed the whole game, while Arizona offensive lineman Fabbians Ebbele and running back Nick Wilson both left the game with injuries.

“Well, we run an offense like that and so we think it's pretty good,” Helfrich said. “That is the key. When you can run the ball and just get somebody on an edge, get somebody in space, get somebody in an arm tackle position and his name is Nick Wilson, bad things are going to happen."

One thing is for sure, both teams will be fighting hard for the right to be called the Pac-12 Champion and a likely berth in the first ever College Football Playoff. Arizona is the underdog in the fight, but the Wildcats are ready for the challenege.

"It doesn’t put pressure on us, it puts pressure on them," Arizona wide receiver Cayleb Jones said. "It’s nothing new to us. It’s another game.

"This game you can win a ring at the end of it and go on to bigger and better things. This is an incredible stage for us and we are blessed to be here."


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