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5 Things To Watch: Arizona

Oct 8, 2022

TUCSON, Ariz. — Oregon looks to remain unbeaten in Pac-12 play entering its bye week when the Ducks play at Arizona on Saturday at 6 p.m.

The No. 12 Ducks (4-1, 2-0) are riding a four-game winning streak, including their first two games in conference play this fall. The Wildcats (3-2, 1-1) had wins over San Diego State and North Dakota State in nonconference play, plus a loss to Mississippi State. They lost their Pac-12 opener at Cal before bouncing back with a win over Colorado.

Oregon leads the all-time series with Arizona, 28-17, including four of the last five. But the teams are even when the matchup is played in Tucson, 11-11, and the Ducks haven't won in Arizona Stadium since 2011.

Saturday's game will be televised by the Pac-12 Network, with Ted Robinson on play by play and Yogi Roth providing analysis.

Some storylines to watch on Saturday evening …

1. The primary challenge for Oregon defensively could be corralling Arizona QB Jayden de Laura and the Wildcats' passing game. Arizona is throwing for 340 yards per game, including 495 last week against Colorado.

The Ducks are familiar with de Laura's gun-slinging talents, from when he was at WSU the past two seasons. They'll also have to contend with an extremely productive receiving corps, including Jacob Cowing, Dorian Singer and Tetairoa McMillan.

"They have speed, and then outside they have size and they make contested catches," UO coach Dan Lanning said. "So if the quarterback can put it close, they have a great chance of winning on 50-50 balls. For them, I don't know if you call them 50-50 balls; it's more like 70-30, because they come down with a lot of them."

2. When Oregon has the ball, meanwhile, the Ducks could try to assert themselves with the ground game. Oregon leads the Pac-12 with 228.80 rushing yards per game, while the Wildcats are 11th in rushing defense, allowing 213.40 yards per game.

Among Pac-12 players with at least 25 carries so far this season, Bo Nix and Bucky Irving are 1-2 in the conference in yards per carry; Nix is gaining 8.16 yards per carry, Irving 7.54. They're doing it behind an offensive line that is looking to clean up some penalties from last week, but which otherwise has been elite this season.

"I know (offensive line coach Adrian) Klemm and (offensive coordinator Kenny) Dillingham will tell you we can do a lot of things better on the offensive line," Lanning said. "They didn't necessarily feel like (last week) was our best blocked game up front. That being said, they've had a lot of success all year. They've done a really good job all year."

3. Of course both offenses Saturday would like to achieve some balance. Oregon has done a good job of that so far in 2022 — the Ducks entered this week as one of four teams in the FBS averaging at least 270 passing yards and 220 rushing yards per game. The others were Alabama, Ohio State and TCU.

One way the Ducks have complemented their run game well at times this season is with deep shots in the passing game. They didn't connect on their shots as well last week against Stanford, although that didn't keep the offense from being productive.

"Overall we can see that we can win in a variety of ways," Lanning said. "Obviously we ran the ball really well and then didn't connect on some of the shots we had downfield that we had done the week before. So the fact that we can be a team that does those things in a variety of ways and still have success, I think that's a positive for us."

4. Perhaps it won't be imperative Saturday that Oregon has more success completing deep pass plays, but the Ducks almost certainly must cut down on the penalties that they incurred against Stanford.

That will be a challenge in what will be a very hostile environment — Arizona has announced a sellout for Saturday's game. It will be the first sellout in Arizona Stadium since 2015.

Another element to keep an eye on Saturday will be the weather. There has been some rain around Tucson all week, including Friday night after the Ducks arrived. In the desert, rain can sometimes be accompanied by lightning, which can cause game delays if it strikes close enough to the stadium.

5. A win Saturday would mean several things for the Ducks in the big picture.

For one thing, it's not too early to keep an eye on Pac-12 standings. Entering the weekend only four unbeaten teams remained in conference play — USC, UCLA, Utah and the Ducks. The Bruins and Utes were scheduled to face off Saturday, and both will play later this season in Autzen Stadium.

The Ducks also have their bye week upcoming. No doubt, the team would much prefer to enter that week off riding the positive momentum of a five-game win streak, rather than nursing their wounds from a first conference loss of the season.