Well the PAC-12 season is upon us, and the Ducks’ quest for a sweep of the newly renovated conference begins in the desert against the Arizona Wildcats and their dynamic Airraid offense.
Starting in 2007, when Sonny Dykes made his way from Texas Tech, the Wildcats began running the air raid offense. Most famously reflected in Mike Leach’s teams with Wes Welker, B.J. Symons, Michael Crabtree, Graham Harrell, etc., the dynamic offense spurred record setting results for Nick Foles and the rest of the Arizona offense. The man running the offense now is Seth Littrell, fresh from Leach’s tutelage in Lubbock.
Littrell has been thrown in to the fire, so to speak, with head coach Mike Stoops being on the hot seat as it is, Littrell did get one of the best Wide Receiving corps in the conference and one of the most efficient QB’s in the conference, but was given a mediocre, inexperienced, offensive line, which happens to be one of, if not the biggest factor in the air raid offense.
The air raid uses distinct styles and concepts to create mismatches in the open field, some of which are covered in my weekly preview below:
Other concepts include the Mesh, Stick, 4 Vert, Drive, and many of the other screen concepts used in the air raid. You can read about the intricacies of the air raid and much more here.
Arizona reminds me of LSU on offense, solid, proven, and talented in almost every area, except for one. And again, its in a very important area.
That area, is along the offensive line. Arizona is breaking in two new linemen, both Freshmen, and they are at the tackle spots. Mickey Baucus, and Fabbians Ebbele, both of them are noticeably green, and struggled immensely with the Stanford defense. On the inside, the Wildcats will have some more promise, with Quinn at Center, while Biskin and Putton will fill out the guard spots. Not too much experience amongst them either, but they have been in the program longer (Jr., Jr., and Soph.)
Expect the Ducks to attack the offensive line early and often to get to Foles.
Behind them, a QB who has made a name for himself in Tucson, Nick Foles. The Senior has set plenty of records for passing yardage, and really has played a good, steady, provider for the Wildcats as they moved to the Airraid. Foles is accurate, rarely makes mistakes, and has a good arm, but is extremely limited in mobility. Expect pressure to be the biggest factor for Arizona’s offense; if it isn’t there, Arizona will be effective, if pressure is there, Arizona will struggle, simple as that.
On the outside, Arizona has some very good receivers, most prominently in NFL Lottery Pick Juron Criner. He’s big, and is fast enough to be a legitimate concern for the Oregon defense. Cliff Harris will have his hands full with Criner. David Douglas, a solid veteran, and Dan Buckner a Texas transfer, are both solid outlets.
In the backfield, things have been very tough on Arizona. They haven’t broken 100 yards rushing yet this season, and only have 2 scores on the ground. They also average an abysmal 2.6 YPC. Keola Antolin is the first back up, he’s more of a power back with good durability, but the Arizona running game is, and will continue to be a non-factor in their offense.
I hate to call the air raid a gimmick, but the solution to stopping their offense is oh, so very simple. Pressure, and disrupting the timing in a timing based offense will spin the Wildcats out. Easier said than done, but notice how pressure, or the disruption of routes, will be source of Oregon’s success on defense.
On defense, Arizona is in a bit of a jam. Dating back to last season, their defense has gotten worse as every game came along, and was absolutely scorched by Oklahoma State and Stanford this year. Injuries, and a lack of talent have doomed the Wildcats in their early season gauntlet.
Along the defensive line is split, especially after Willie Mobley went down with a torn ACL. They have solid interior talent, as Washington and Tuihalamaka are both exciting, young, tackles, but on the outside, Arizona still has some questions as to the production of Parish and Usman. Arizona has only gotten 1 sack on the season against Division 1 opponents.
Injuries also plagued the linebackers, as Jake Fischer, another NFL prospect, also went down with an ACL injury. His injury took what looked like a strong unit, and knocked it down to an “OK” unit. His injury forced Arizona to rely upon greener players other than Paul Vassallo, and Derek Earls. Vassallo is a JUCO transfer, and Vassallo is a Senior who started all but one game last year. Depth is a huge factor when playing Oregon, and Arizona’s linebackers do not have it.
Arizona’s secondary is the best unit on the defense, and is lead by Trevin Wade, a pesky corner who is one of the best in the PAC 12. Jonathan McKnight and Shaquille Richardson will also be in the rotation alongside Wade. Robert Golden and Marquis Flowers are talented safeties who will be exciting and consistent players all season long. Everyone in the secondary is athletic, fast, and smart, but struggle in perhaps their biggest purpose, and that is pass defense. Expect Darron Thomas to bridge his ridiculous numbers in to PAC 12 play.
Arizona will find a way to move the ball against the Ducks early, but Allioti’s adjustments will be too much for the Cats as Oregon’s offense will be dominant once again. Lots of points, and a big Oregon win: