The Oregon Ducks has averaged 539 yards per game so far this season, tied for sixth in the country (with Washington State!). Arizona's defense has allowed 473 yards per game, 111th best in the nation. It doesn't take in-depth analysis or fancy statistics to see that this matchup could make for a long night in the desert for the Wildcats. But how much of a mismatch is this really? Here are a few of the reasons why Arizona's defense is off to such a putrid start.
- Schedule - Arizona's September schedule is brutal. They are the only Pac-12 team to have to play Oregon and Stanford in consecutive weeks; putting those two games right after a trip into Stillwater, OK is just masochistic.
- Injuries - Brittle ACL Syndrome has decimated the Wildcats' defense. Three projected starters - safety Adam Hall, cornerback Jonathan McKnight, and linebacker Jake Fischer - have not played a down yet this fall, with McKnight out for the season and the other two out for another month. And playing two of the best passing offenses in the country in Oklahoma State and Stanford isn't easy when you're missing half your secondary. To put their pass defense woes in perspective, Northern Arizona QB Cary Grossart completed 77% of his passes against the Wildcats.
- Coordinator - Mark Stoops couldn't handle one more season working for his brother, and bolted for Florida State. Now the job falls to linebackers coach Tim Kish. I'm not saying Stoops was the reason for the Wildcats' D's success (because it's not like they were that good anyway). But the transition to a new coordinator, especially when faced with the two previous obstacles, could prove to further impact a unit.
So what should Oregon do to attack Arizona's defense?
Speed. And lots of Darron Thomas.
I know. That's pretty much our gameplan for every opponent. But speed and solid passing is what has torched Arizona two weeks in a row. There's no reason to suspect it won't work again.
The depth of the Arizona defense is woefully thin, and can be taken advantage of. Safety Marquis Flowers leads the team with 25 tackles, followed by linebacker Derek Earls and cornerbacks Trevin Wade and Shaquille Richardson. But the Wildcats have only ten players with eight or more total tackles thus far this season, compared to eighteen Oregon players. Arizona has also been inept at forcing turnovers, with only two interceptions so far.
Oregon simply has too many playmakers in both the run and the pass game for Arizona to handle. I expect this to be a game similar to last year's Arizona game, or the Wildcats' last game against Stanford: the Arizona offense is good enough to keep the Cats in the game for the first half, but Oregon's offensive firepower is just too much for this understaffed defense to contain for a full sixty minutes.