How Can Oregon Beat Arizona?

The Ducks face the Wildcats for the third time in 2 seasons.

By now it is well publicized that Arizona has been something of a foil for the Ducks in the last two seasons. The Wildcats knocked the Ducks out of the conference championship last season and have the opportunity to knock the Ducks out of the inaugural college football playoff.

This is simply a game the Ducks have to win and throughout the previous weeks, many Ducks and coaches have commented that they did not play their best game against Arizona and in turn came up short against the Cats. As difficult as it is to beat a great team twice in a single season, Oregon has to change some things going into Friday or they will come up short again once again. Much of it comes down to simple execution for the Ducks.

Oregon has to get out to a quick start. They were held scoreless in the first quarter against Arizona which had only happened three times in the 31 games prior to Arizona. The only game that Oregon won in those games was against Wyoming earlier in the season. The Ducks have to capitalize early and get points on the board. It may seem elementary but the Ducks have only suffered defeat in the Mark Helfrich era when Oregon doesn’t score in the first quarter. Oregon looked primed to score on their first drive but Byron Marshall flat out dropped a pass at the Arizona 15 yard line on fourth down. It looked like Marshall might have been able to score which would have changed the tenor of the game completely.

Defensively, the Ducks were effective in the first half. They forced two turnovers against Arizona but were unable to turn either of them into points. The fumble recovery is excusable as Oregon recovered it with less than 30 seconds in the first half. However, the Ducks simply needed to turn Reggie Daniels interception into points. On that drive, Oregon moved the ball 11 yards and saw Marcus Mariota run for a loss of 3 and then get sacked, giving UA the ball back little more than 2 minutes later.

Offensively, Oregon has to take care of the ball. Many remember the 2 fumbles that Mariota had; the biggest turnover of the season coming when Scooby Wright stripped Marcus, what many won’t remember is the near interception Jarvis McCall had on a deep pass to Byron Marshall on the aforementioned drive. Also included in this is the way Oregon’s wide receivers and Marcus Mariota seemed to not be on the same page throughout the night. There were two passes in particular where Mariota threw deep on what looked like a fade or streak route and the receiver broke the route off, looking underneath. These two plays while seemingly minor, speaks volumes to where the Oregon offense was throughout the game.

Part of the reason why Oregon’s offense was somewhat ineffective throughout the game is due to Arizona’s defense simply playing a great game. Oregon’s offensive line was beaten up and inexperienced and the Wildcat defense took advantage of that by changing up their protections and where the pressure was coming from. The offensive line has galvanized since they were abused by the Wildcats and have also gotten a lot healthier. Jake Fisher and Andre Yruretagoyena have returned to the fold and Hroniss Grasu is working to get back for the conference championship as well. With the collaborative experience the offensive line has gained over the past two months, expect to see a better performance out of the offensive line.

Despite having a Heisman candidate at quarterback, much of Oregon’s offense predicates from the run. As Oregon was unable to be effective with the interior run, the play-action pass went out the window with it, making Mariota’s task all the more difficult. The offensive line needs to be able to get a push and set up the Ducks with reasonable 3rd down situations. In October, Oregon went 4 for 14 on third downs.

Oregon’s defensive strategy throughout the season has been to take everything away over the top and make teams beat them with shorter throws and have to nickel and dime their way down the field. It works just fine when your defense tackles on first contact and does not allow opposing play makers to get loose. That is exactly what happened against Arizona. The Ducks defense has improved over the past several weeks with their tackling and they will have to be on point once again when facing Nick Wilson and Anu Soloman.

Simply put, Arizona had put together two perfect games against the Ducks and Oregon has not played well. If Oregon is going to break the Wildcat hex, they need to come out and perform like a top 4 team in the country. So much is on the line for the Ducks, not just a conference championship but a Heisman trophy, a shot at a national title and a regaining of west coast bragging rights.

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