As the temperature drops this week in Eugene the heat on the #1 Oregon Ducks continues to rise. With a Pac-10 Championship only one win away and a certain berth in the National Championship merely two, it would be hard for any team to not feel the mounting pressure that comes with being regarded as the nation’s premier team. Most expect the Ducks to win their last two games, at home this week against #21 Arizona and on the road at Oregon State the following week. However, coming off of a narrow 15-13 victory against a motivated California team in Berkley some Duck fans have their feathers in a frenzy. Not to worry Oregon fans, the Ducks realize that opportunities like this are too precious to look past an opponent that would like nothing else than to be the reason Oregon doesn’t go to the title game. There were encouraging signs of leadership, fight and very solid defense against Cal and the mark of a true champion is being able to win games when you don’t have your best stuff. Considering Cal played their best defensive game in approximately a decade I think Duck fans should just leave that game in the past and move on to a formidable opponent this week in Arizona.
Arizona has remained in the top-25 every week this season and looked impressive early in the year, with a very strong showing in a victory over Iowa in Tucson. However recently it has looked like the wheels have fallen off the Wildcat bandwagon after two consecutive losses to Stanford and USC. Arizona possesses an above-average defense and one of the nation’s most efficient passers on the offensive side in quarterback Nick Foles. Foles has battled through a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 2 games to post a 71% completion percentage and over 2,200 yards in 8 games through the air. While those statistics do seem impressive they are in large part inflated because Arizona runs an offense that attacks the middle of the field for small chunks of yardage, rarely asking Foles to heave the ball downfield more than 10 or 15 yards at a time. Arizona also has weapons at running back with Keola Antolin and Nick Grigsby sharing the load, and wide receiver with Juron Criner. Teams have shut down Antolin and Grigsby of late, with the Wildcats rushing for just over 200 yards in the past two games combined. Criner is the player that the Ducks need to worry about most because of his sheer size at 6-4, much taller than whoever the Ducks decide to have cover him. However, with the combination of a short passing game and solid run game look for Oregon to bring their undersized defensive backs up closer to the line of scrimmage to try and jump the intermediate routes. With large receivers such as Criner the best way for cornerbacks Cliff Harris and Talmadge Jackson to cover them is to get in front and use their athleticism to make plays on the ball. Also look for physical run-stoppers Brandon Bair, Casey Matthews and John Boyett to rack up tackles.
Coming off of a game in Berkley where the Ducks looked mortal for the first time this season, the offense needs to rebound in a big way. Heisman trophy candidate LaMichael James was not able to run well on a sore ankle and the offensive line was ineffective against a talented Cal front 7. This week against Arizona the offensive line will have their hands full with two of the nation’s best in defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed. Both Elmore and Reed have dominated when rushing the passer this season, combining for 10 sacks (8 by Elmore). It was apparent that when quarterback Darron Thomas did not have time to deliver the ball in the pocket the Oregon offense did not run smoothly against Cal, so keeping Elmore and Reed out of the backfield is vital for the Ducks. However, head coach and offensive czar Chip Kelly has used talented but aggressive players like Elmore and Reed to scheme a run game that can explode for big plays. Oregon relies on an option game that requires the defensive ends to essentially stand still to not be read by the quarterback. If they lean either towards the running back or towards the quarterback then Thomas can make the right read and leave the end defenseless and out of position. With aggressive playmakers like Elmore and Reed look for Kelly to test how disciplined they are early with the read option game. If the Ducks come out throwing the ball early that is probably to get Elmore and Reed to start coming up field so Thomas, James or running back Kenjon Barner can run right underneath them later in the game. Oregon needs to get out to a fast start and establish their frenetic tempo, something they did not do well against Cal. If they are able to control the line of scrimmage and play fast like they want to Oregon should be flying high and back to normal.
Just as a side not I expect a full-fledged “Battle of the Blondie’s” to burst out between Oregon’s Casey Matthews and Arizona’s Brooks Reed, as both appear to have refused to cut their hair since puberty. Matthews does it to fit in with the rest of his storied family, and Reed does it to fit in with the rest of his team. Maybe there has been a barber strike in Tucson this year? Either way if the game is lopsided one way or another some viewers may stay tuned for the postgame interview where I sincerely hope they reveal their choice of conditioners, I’m dying to know the secret. Could make for a good shampoo commercial at the least (I’m looking at you Polamalu).
Coming off of a bye week to get healthy and come up with a solid game plan I expect the Ducks to make a statement on national television this Friday. Everyone knows they did not play great or even good against Cal, but they won the game and at the end of the day that’s what matters. Being at home for the last game in Autzen Stadium for a senior class that has won more games than any in the 115-year history at Oregon, look for the Ducks to come out motivated and hungry. Motivated to clinch their Pac-10 title for the second straight year, and hungry because I doubt they will be allowed to have too much turkey on Thanksgiving.
Ducks win the day and the conference 49-24
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.