How good might the Oregon Ducks (3-0, No. 5 in the latest Don Best Linemakers poll) really be? And are the Arizona Wildcats (3-0) as good as they have looked in the first three weeks of the college football season?
Whatever, we’re going to find out a lot more about each of these Pac-12 entries when they get together on Saturday night at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.
A quick check of the Don Best college football odds screen notes that the host Ducks have been posted as a substantial 21 ½ - 22 ½ -point favorite at the majority of Las Vegas sportsbooks, with the ‘total’ hovering way up in the stratosphere between 78 and 79 at most Nevada wagering outlets as of late in the week.
Kickoff time in Eugene has been moved back to 10:30 p.m. (ET) in order for ESPN to make it the featured late-night Saturday TV telecast.
Pointspread-wise, we must acknowledge that hefty price and note that Oregon has failed to cover each of its first three games this season while laying even-bigger numbers against Arkansas State, Fresno State, and Tennessee Tech. In fact, the Ducks are now 0-7-1 vs. the number in their last eight tries as double-digit chalk at Autzen Stadium.
We suggest, however, putting an asterisk in front of that subpar spread mark, especially in regard to the first three games this season when HC Chip Kelly called off the dogs (er, Ducks) before halftime in each of the games as his Oregon side had run up huge advantages before halftime each week.
In the Arkansas State and Fresno contests in particular, the Ducks effectively played 25-minute games before Kelly began to substitute freely. Oregon had scored 50 points before the second quarter was halfway complete against Arkansas State before Kelly graciously took his foot off the gas pedal. Similarly, the Ducks were cruising by a 35-6 count at halftime vs. Fresno before downshifting in the second half.
There’s no telling how much Oregon could have scored in those games, as well as last week vs. Tennessee Tech, had Kelly been so inclined. We’ll see if he shows similar mercy if given the opportunity this week against Arizona.
The Ducks have been playing video game football thus far, accumulating 594 yards per game (ranks 7th nationally) and scoring 54 ppg (ranking 5th nationally) despite going at half-speed for much of the first three games. Explosive soph RB De’Anthony Thomas is a prime example of Oregon’s early season fireworks, gaining an astounding 17.5 yards per carry but only with 13 totes in the first three games as Kelly, as mentioned, has subbed liberally. Fellow RB Kenjon Barner, at “only” 5.8 ypc, leads Oregon rushers with 324 yards (and 6 rush TDs) in the first three weeks.
Barner and Thomas have already combined for 13 touchdowns, the most among any RB combo in the country.
Kelly is also about ready to take the shackles of RS frosh QB Marcus Mariota, who beat out holdover Bryan Bennett for the first-sting job and has completed better than 75% of his passes with 8 TDs and just one pick in the first three weeks. Good news for Mariota is that top wideout Josh Huff is due back in the lineup on Saturday after missing the Tennessee Tech game with a sore knee.
Oregon’s machine-gun like pace was expected to produce big offensive numbers, but where the Ducks must improve from last season if they wish to get back to the BCS is on the stop unit, where prior to the season vet d.c. Nick Aliotti believed he might have had his best Webfoot platoon since the famed “Gang Green” defense of the 1994 Rose Bowl team in Aliotti’s first tour of duty (under Rich Brooks) in Eugene. Again, early evidence is sketchy because of the mass substitutions employed by coaching staff as the Ducks raced to those huge leads against their first three foes.
Of course, there is plenty of intrigue surrounding visiting Arizona and its apparent arrival under new HC Rich Rodriguez, like Oregon’s Kelly a spread option devotee. The Wildcats, 4-8 under Mike Stoops and Tim Kish last year, qualify as one of the surprise packages of the season to date with their 3-0 mark and ascension back into the national rankings (22nd).
Rodriguez served notice in Week Two when his Wildcats avenged losses to Oklahoma State the past two seasons with a 59-38 blowout payback win on September 8 in Tucson. Which also confirmed Rodriguez’ earlier statements (as early as last spring, to anyone who would listen) that sr. QB Matt Scott could be the best-ever that Rodriguez has used at the position in his several years at a variety of major-college stops including Tulane, Clemson, West Virginia, and Michigan (the latter two jobs as head coach).
Scott’s early numbers suggest as much as he has completed almost 72% of his passes with 7 TDs and just one pick while running for another 190 yards. Meanwhile, RB Ka’Deem Carey has emerged as a coast-to-coast threat (344 YR and 5.8 ypc, including a 73-yard TD run) while Scott has a plethora of receiving options led by wideouts such as former Texas transfer Dan Buckner (22 catches already) and Austin Hill (17 catches at better than 18 yards per receptions).
Rodriguez has succeeded in increasing the tempo of the Arizona offense, which has run a whopping 280 plays out of its no-huddle in the first three games. Only Marshall (292) has run more plays. It also hasn’t taken a veteran OL (with all five returning starters) to get the hang of the different blocking schemes require din the Rodriguez spread option.
The Cats, however, will need to see if their defense can pass the test on Saturday. The jury is still out on the stop unit after Ok State ripped through it for 636 yards two weeks ago, only for the Cowboys to become unstuck by 15 penalties and four turnovers (including three picks by true frosh QB Wes Lunt). Arizona might not be able to count upon similar generosity from the Ducks.
The Cats have not beaten Oregon straight up since 2007 but have covered the spread in five of the last seven meetings.