This Saturday is the day we finally get to see our team take off the gloves and open up the playbook on offense and defense. The first three games presented very little challenge to the Ducks and neither the offense or defense were ever really challenged. As a result we saw very little creativity on either side of the ball and conservative play-calling all around. Expect that to change in week four.
Arizona, like previous opponents this year, will be a familiar team insofar as they run a no-huddle spread offense that is very similar to the Ducks. No one expected much of the Wildcats this year, with new coach Rich Rodriguez stuck with players from the Mike Stoops era, but the team gained instant credibility when they knocked off Oklahoma State two weeks ago. Should the Ducks be worried? Not really.
Arizona is talented. Their quarterback, Matt Scott, is a good passer but also runs the ball very well (Michael Clay compared him to Marcus Mariota). They have a talented tailback in sophomore Ka'Deem Carey, and talented wideouts in Dan Buckner and Austin Hill. The team will present more of a challenge than any of Oregon's first three opponents. The problem is that despite better talent, schematically they are very similar to those first three teams, as well as very similar to the Oregon Ducks themselves. The key to stopping the spread is staying disciplined and tackling in space, which the Oregon defense practices every day against the best no-huddle spread offense in the country.
Arizona will run a ton of plays (they average 93 to Oregon's 86), and they will certainly put some points on the scoreboard. But in addition to their schemes not catching the Ducks by surprise, their tempo will also be familiar and may even work against them. Their offense will struggle to wear down the Oregon defense while their defense, which lacks depth, will ultimately succumb to Oregon's pace.
That doesn't mean the game is a gimme, despite the 20-something point spread in Vegas. The Ducks could run into trouble with turnovers and penalties, two things which they've been able to get away with to varying degrees in the first three games. Arizona is talented enough to take advantage of those mistakes more than previous teams this season. The game will also be Oregon's first real challenge without the services of 4-year starter and general of the backfield, John Boyett. It will be interesting to see if Matt Scott tries to attack them deep.
Ultimately, none of that should matter. The faster Arizona plays, the more opportunities it gives the Oregon offense. While Arizona's offense is efficient and can put points on the board, they probably won't be given as many turnovers as they were by Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, their defense, which allowed 600+ yards to Oklahoma State, will suffer as the game wears on. While Oregon will be rotating players from the 2-deep all game, Arizona will mostly rely on their first team on the defensive side of the ball, and ultimately that is where they will end up losing the game. As the defense struggles, their offense may press to try and keep pace with the Ducks on the scoreboard. This will only lead to opportunities for Oregon to force turnovers by pressuring the quarterback into making mistakes.
Oregon has an extremely talented defense this year. Speculation that it might be the best in Ducks history was not unwarranted. While its taken a hit with the loss of Boyett, it is still very deep and very talented. Don't be surprised if Arizona keeps the game close going into halftime. It's in the second half that the Ducks will pull away and ultimately win this game by a comfortable margin.