With two games left in the season, Oregon will take its final road trip of the year with a trip to dreaded Tucson to take on an Arizona team that will have its hands full on Saturday. For the Wildcats to pull off the upset, Arizona's star running back Ka'Deem Carey will have to be backed up by his quarterback B.J. Denker to keep up with the Ducks.
As kalon mentioned in his advanced statistics article, Arizona appears to have a decent defense, but the unit has struggled against teams that can sustain longer drives. Those statistics are almost certainly because of their luxurious schedule, and Oregon’s overall talent on offense should be enough to put up more than a serviceable amount of points.
But on the other side of the ball, there are a few things that Oregon’s defense will need to be ready for in Tucson. The first thing Arizona’s offense has going for it is obviously Ka'Deem Carey, who averages just over 150 yards per game on the ground, has rushed for over 100 yards in every game this season, and can really be called one of the best all around running backs in the country.
What would really make Carey deadly is a serviceable passing game to compliment his abilities. Unfortunately, B.J. Denker really hasn’t been all that deadly this year from Rich Rodriguez’s all important QB position. He has almost certainly improved over the course of the season, but Denker isn’t quite at the level of some of the better quarterbacks in the conference. As advanced statistics revealed, Denker and the Arizona passing offense struggle when defenses are expecting the pass. This means that Oregon’s defense just needs to keep Carey bottled up on early downs and keep Arizona’s offense off schedule to allow the defense to dial up some pressure for Denker.
Obviously the bit about Carey is a bit easier said than done, but the Ducks should be focusing in on the running game throughout the contest, especially since Oregon’s defensive backs are more than prepared to handle the Wildcat receivers in man coverage.
Arizona will try to keep their offense on schedule by using the classic Rich Rodriguez spread-to-run offense that utilizes a few key concepts a bit differently than how Oregon uses them. The biggest concept that separates Arizona’s offense from Oregon’s is the more frequent use of the zone read triple option look.
On this play, UCLA’s defense sold out on Carey as the read man crashed hard to defend Carey. Denker made the correct read, pulled the ball, and advanced to the second level. Denker then read UCLA’s linebacker and cornerback correctly as they quickly approached to defend Denker. As soon as they cleared away from the wide receiver, Denker flipped the ball out to his wide receiver for a good gain off of the triple option.
This play should look familiar, as Oregon’s offense features this concept from time to time. Arizona’s offense utilizes this concept very frequently as each of their zone read plays will most likely feature the wide receiver as the third option.
One thing to note is that Denker is a fairly capable runner. He doesn't have elite speed, but he is a dependable dual-threat quarterback that can pick up a handful of yards if the defense isn't paying attention to him.
Here Denker makes a good read and keeps the ball. Notice how Arizona uses an upright H-Back as a lead blocker for the quarterback, the H-Back seemingly faked blocking UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, then headed upfield to block a backside linebacker. The triple option concept is still in place, as Denker had the option to flip the ball out to his receiver if UCLA's linebacker Myles Jack crashed too hard on Denker keeping the ball.
A lot of Arizona’s passing game works off of that triple option concept as well, except instead of using a bubbling wide receiver, the Wildcats extend the passing game down off of play action. The results are also similar to what Oregon’s pocket normally looks like off of play action, with nearly the entire defensive front following the running back while the quarterback runs the opposite direction to make an almost un-pressured throw.
Obviously B.J. Denker is no Marcus Mariota. The throws Arizona has set out for him off of play action are normally short passes, meant to churn out long drives and pick up first downs. Oregon’s play action concepts tend to attack deeper part of the field by design, but allow Mariota to check down to shorter routes.
When Denker is faced with some obvious passing situations, Oregon can bring pressure aggressively, much like how UCLA did against him a few weeks ago.
Here, Denker is the only option in the empty set. UCLA isn’t particularly worried about him being able to stand in there and find the hot receiver and sends pressure from the linebacker off the right edge. Denker is immediately overwhelmed and chucks the ball up into triple coverage. This interception would be negated by a pass interference call, but this ball should be picked off every time. Expect the Ducks to use those same aggressive tactics against Denker on Saturday as well.
As long as Oregon’s defensive front can hold their own against Carey, the Ducks will have no problem bottling up the rest of the Arizona offense. Winning the battle on third down will also be crucial, as the Arizona offense will have to use long, methodical drives to get the ball down the field.
I think Carey will have a good game at home and will find a way to move the ball just a bit against the Duck defense, but I can’t imagine a scenario in which the rest of the Arizona offense will have enough firepower to keep up with Oregon. Add on some inevitable turnovers forced by the Oregon defense and this game could get out of hand fairly quickly.