That could be a mistake.
I am not saying the Wildcats will win. I am not sure they have enough horses to play a full 60 minutes with the Ducks. This is a football team that may not lose again if they keep playing well. I do think the Cats will make this an entertaining game.
Under Mike Stoops the team tends to play well in games where they are not expected to win or when things look bleak for a win. It seems when the chips are down the team plays relaxed and does not press. When that happens, the Cats make plays and make less mistakes.
This was especially true of the team after Richard Kovalcheck took over at QB. He came off the bench against Oregon down 28-0 and led the team to two late scores. It was the same thing against Oregon State where Kovalcheck and the Cats outscored the Beavers 14-7 after giving up the first 21 points of the contest.
Ironically enough, the Cats got the win against Washington, but did not look good doing it. The next game saw them head to USC and lead the Trojans after one and cut the lead to 14-9 before the Trojan offense exploded.
The Cats were huge underdogs against ASU and Kovalcheck and the offense had their best game, putting up 34 points against the bowl bound Devils.
The trend continued this year. In the opener the Cats trailed Utah 27-10 before Kovalcheck led them to two late scores and had them deep into Utah territory before the Cats elected to punt.
The two greatest examples of this are the USC and Stanford games this year. Against USC the Cats had seemingly no chance and hung around until midway in the fourth quarter. For three quarters the Cats were able to answer when USC scored and generally made the Trojans sweat more than anyone expected.
Against Stanford the Cats should have, could have and would have won, but they made critical errors throughout the game. Fumbles, picks and penalties cost them. They seemed to play tight, especially late in the game.
So now Oregon comes to town. The Ducks are 6-1, they are averaging over 36 points a game and Cal appears to be the toughest game left on the schedule. However, the Ducks seem to play to the level of their competition at times. In the opener Houston led at the half before Oregon found their groove in the second half to pull away with a 14-point lead.
The Ducks never did put Fresno State away. They only beat a good, but not great, WAC team by a field goal at home. Stanford led early before the Ducks exploded for six of the next seven scores.
WHY THE CATS CAN HANG AROUND
The Ducks run a version of the sprint option that is difficult to defend. The good news for the Cats is that they have seen versions of the scheme twice already this season and that makes it easier to prepare for.
The team should get a boost from Willie Tuitama. Not only will the freshman give the team and fans a little excitement, but it will force Kovalcheck to play better. The pressure is on for Kovalcheck and we will see if he can respond. It is still his job to lose and he does not want to lose it.
The Cats are getting healthier. The Cats had Ronnie Palmer and Spencer Larsen back last week and now they should get the bulk of the snaps. That is an instant upgrade for the defense that has been good against the pass, but needs help against the run. Those two will be especially helpful against the Ducks' scheme.
Arizona has been a team that has been a decent first quarter team but has struggled in the second and third. The Ducks tend to be slow starters, so if the Cats can get a few early scores they can hang around for awhile.
Are the Ducks overlooking the Cats? They have their last big test of the year in the next contest against Cal. Sure there is two weeks between games, and Oregon does not want to lose before a bye week, but there could be a letdown against a 1-5 football team.
Oregon has a good, but not great defense. Their front four is outstanding, but their backers and defensive backs can be had. If the Cats can keep those linemen in check, then they may be able to make plays against the secondary.
WHY THE CATS CAN'T HANG AROUND
The Ducks run a version of the sprint option that is difficult to defend. The Cats have faced this offense twice and those teams had a lot of success running against the Wildcats.
The Ducks score in bunches. The Ducks' offense tends to get going in the second quarter and explodes in the third. Conversely, the Cats tend to struggle in the middle portion of the game.
The Ducks are second in the Pac-10 against the rush, while the Cats are last in the Pac-10 when trying to run the ball. The Cats must get a ground game going if they want to hang.
Gut feeling is that the Cats hang around. I think they may even take an early lead. In the end the Ducks have too much offense and I think their powerful lines will wear down the Cats. The Ducks should win, but I think it will be a little tougher than folks are expecting.