Last weekend, Rich Rodriguez lost his first game at Arizona, effectively ending the honeymoon stage of his hiring. This Saturday, Oregon State will roll into town and try to add on to the Arizona loss column.
It could prove difficult, although Oregon State hasn’t lost in Tucson since 1997. Arizona is coming off a tough loss and the worst offensive showing since Rodriguez and co. showed up in Tucson.
It does not get any easier this week, as Oregon State presents a tough defense.
The Beaver defense is going to key in on Arizona’s run game, trying to shut it down. Oregon State has only given up 53.5 rushing yards per game this season, which is impressive considering that Wisconsin and UCLA, OSU’s first two opponents, have strong running offenses. The Beavers shut down UCLA’s Jonathan Franklin, the conference’s leading rusher, holding him to just 50 yards on the ground.
Oregon State did give up quite a few yards through the air against UCLA, who runs a similar spread offense. The Beavers allowed 372 yards through the air, although they still held the Bruins to just 20 points on the day.
The Cats will have to find ways to put points on the board while stopping the OSU offense. With only two games under their belt, the Beavers’ offensive attack has had mixed results. Normally a strong running team, the running corps is only averaging 100 yards a game, while super sophomore Sean Mannion has been stellar under center for Mike Riley’s squad.
Mannion has had two excellent receivers to throw to this season in Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton. Cooks, also a sophomore, leads the team in receiving with 127.5 yards per contest. Wheaton, a senior leader of the offense, is second on the team, but may be the bigger threat on the field.
Arizona could have some issues running the ball with the way that Oregon State is playing defense. However, both teams should be able to find success through the air.
Both defenses have been better than expected so far and it could come down to a single big play or mistake that decides the game.
Players to watch:
#4 QB, Sean Mannion – Mannion has been brilliant through the only two games he has played this season. He has completed 64.6 percent of his passes, while averaging 327.5 yards per game. Mannion had a strong case for Pac-12 Player of the Week last week and could have another big performance against Arizona.
#7 WR, Brandin Cooks – The sophomore has been one of the strongest offensive threats for the Beavers this season. He is fast and can blow by defenders who can’t make the first move. If Cooks gets in the zone, he could handle the Arizona secondary easily. It will be important for the Wildcats to shut him down early.
#24, RB, Storm Woods – The redshirt freshman burst on the scene in training camp and has been the Beavers’ starting running back ever since. He is a player that can surprise many people on Saturday. Arizona has keyed in on star running backs so far this season, but with the defense focusing on stopping Mannion, the young back may be able to find some room to run.
#95 DE, Scott Crichton – The sophomore has been special so far this season. He leads the team in sacks and has been key for the defensive line that is shutting down opposing run games. Crichton has become a dual threat lineman because he can attack the run, but can also put pressure on the quarterback. That’s not even mentioning that he has batted down a few passes at the line of scrimmage this season.
#16 CB, Rashaad Reynolds – The junior is one of the leaders on the defensive attack for the Beavers. Reynolds leads the team in tackles and pass break ups. He will be important to keep an eye on as the Wildcat receivers are coming off a game in which they struggled with catching and communication.
Keys to the game:
1. The offense: Arizona’s offense faltered last week after blasting out of the gates to start the season. Matt Scott was dinged up a bit, but has practiced all week and should be ready to go. His success may be the difference in a big win or a tough loss moving forward with the season.
2. Force turnovers: The Wildcats have done a decent job of creating turnovers on the season, but have struggled to capitalize on all of them. The defense has been playing above expectations so far this season, but the team still sits with a 0 turnover margin. If Arizona expects to beat the Beavers, it must create a few turnovers.
3. Pressure Mannion: Sean Mannion has been stellar for Oregon State so far this season. He can throw and has two very capable receivers that would love to hurt Arizona if given the chance. Jeff Casteel has seemed hesitant to send very many blitzes in the early games this season, but that may change this weekend. Mannion is still young, which could be the difference in the outcome of the game if he gets jarred early.
4. Score early: The Wildcats had multiple chances to jump on top of the Ducks in Eugene. Two early red zone visits failed to yield any points and set the tone for the game. The same can be said for the game against the Beavers. If Arizona struggles to score early on, then confidence could be blown and the game could get away quickly.
5. New week, new game: Rich Rodriguez has a twenty-four hour rule about games from the previous week. It is important for the team to understand that the Oregon game is behind it and the Beavers are in Tucson for a completely different challenge. Being shutout on national television the way that Arizona did can be crushing to a season, so it will be interesting to see how the Wildcats respond.