Matt Schmidt of ZonaZealots.com was kind enough to answer a few questions about the game between the Oregon Ducks and Arizona Wildcats; a highly anticipated Pac-12 home opener for the Ducks against a top 25 team. This is the first true competition the defending Rose Bowl champs will face, and it’s important for the Ducks to get on the right track. You can view my answers to Matt’s questions here.
Autzen Zoo: Give us an overview of the top three defenders on Arizona, since most of us assume that the Wildcats defense is terrible and can’t stop the run. I know the depth is poor, but you guys have a terrific linebacker. Give us an idea of some of the guys to watch for.
Zona Zealots: The terrific linebacker you are referring to is Jake Fischer, who leads the team with 33 tackles. Our defense is paper thin, but two things RichRod appears to be better at than his predecessor Mike Stoops is 1. teaching his players how to tackle and 2.the ability to put talent where it belongs. Jared Tevis was a special teams guy last year. This year, he is the starting safety and second to only Fischer in tackles (26). Additionally, he has broken up 3 passes, deflected 5 and picked off 2. The dude is 5’10’ and less than 200lbs–he’s a maniac for his size. Marquis Flowers, who played safety last year, has moved to linebacker due to his toughness and become the third best tackler on the team with 23. We will have to tackle to succeed on Saturday, so these three will have to have big days.
AZ: Who scares you the most on the Oregon Ducks, besides De’Anthony Thomas? That’s too easy.
ZZ: Does Chip Kelly count? Autzen Zoo? The consistent, year-after-year top 5 national ranking? The fact that you’ve had our number for the last four years? More than a few of the uniforms you’ve decided to wear…..
In all seriousness though, there’s obviously a lot to worry about when it comes to the Oregon Ducks in Eugene. If De’Anthony Thomas were to get injured, it does not seem that Oregon would skip a beat with backup Kenjon Barner, who has already amassed 324 yards on the ground and 45 in the air.
AZ: What are your thoughts on the Ducks wide receivers, as well as tight end Colt Lyerla? How does the Wildcats defense match up against them?
ZZ: In all honesty, Oregon’s pass offense does not worry me as much as their run game. The more Oregon throws the ball the better, because Arizona will win any battle that takes place in the air. This is how Arizona beat Oklahoma State: our defense was feisty enough to frustrate OSU’s run game, create impatience and force a freshmen quarterback to throw the ball more often than what was ideal, creating crucial mistakes. If the Cowboys had stayed on the ground more, it would have been a much closer game.
AZ: Who do you think wins this game and why? What are the chances Arizona creates and upset and do you agree that the betting line is a little too generous for Oregon? I think Arizona is a dangerous team and a somewhat underestimated top 25 team by some. Is this thinking correct?
ZZ: Your thinking is correct. I think Oregon pulls away later in this game by a couple of scores after tiring out a thin Arizona defense, but with Arizona’s explosive offense, an upset is not out of the question–the betting line is more than a “little” too generous. After an epic upset over Oklahoma State, Arizona has already exceeded expectations and are coming into Saturday’s game full speed ahead. Here are some factors to consider:
1. Arizona has already been in an overtime game against Toledo and tested by a very good Oklahoma State team–they already know what it is like to handle pressure. This Saturday will be Oregon’s first crack at a tough opponent.
2. Arizona QB Matt Scott is a 5th year senior and Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is a freshmen. In the read-option offenses that both teams run, decisions made by the quarterback are critical. Though Mariota has looked good so far, his inexperience could show if Arizona can apply pressure and force him to make decisions quicker than he would like to.
3. So far, Arizona’s 3-3-5 defense has bent–quite a bit–but has not broken. It is designed exactly for offenses like Oregon, who try to spread the defense out and create one-on-one matchups. If Arizona tackles as well as it has been, Oregon will have to work hard on every drive if they want to punch it through.
4. In a game involving two explosive offenses and subpar defenses, this game could simply come down to which team turns the ball over less.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.