It’s game day for the Ducks in Santa Clara and the nation’s eyes are going to be on the leader of the most explosive team in the country, Marcus Mariota. With the Ducks’ season on the line and the Heisman presentation around the corner, Mariota will have to bring his A-game in order to beat what has proved to be the most difficult opponent of his career.
The Arizona Wildcats have been one of only two teams to beat the Ducks since Mariota was named the starter in 2012. They are the only team that Mariota has a losing record against, so tonight’s game has the added excitement of witnessing a determined Duck team ensure that their leader can leave without a losing record to any single opponent.
Jungkyu Lee of espn.com outlined some of the ways that Arizona has managed to do what so many teams have failed to do to contain the Ducks. Over the last two seasons Oregon has averaged 260.8 rushing yards per game. When facing the Wildcats, the Ducks have been held to 171 rushing yards per game, taking away the play action threat and placing the burden squarely on Mariota’s arm.
However, when these two teams met in October, Royce Freeman had yet to break out as the power runner that he has become this season. Since that game, Freeman has rushed for an average of 119 yards per game, reaching the 100 yard mark in all but two (when he rushed for 98 yards against Stanford and 99 against Utah). With a healthy offensive line to open up gaps for Oregon’s first true freshman to rush for 1,000 yards, Arizona will have a much harder time stopping the run tonight.
To demonstrate the continuing improvement of the Ducks’ defense, they will have the task tonight of stopping Arizona’s 44th ranked rushing offense. The Ducks almost allowed two 100 yard rushers in October’s game so they will be watching freshman Nick Wilson carefully tonight. Wilson has rushed for 100 yards in seven games this year with a total of 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The Wildcats have had Oregon’s number the previous two seasons but tonight the Ducks will gladly answer the call. With the development of younger players into stars, a healthy offensive line and plenty of motivation, the Ducks are going to put on a show tonight in Santa Clara.
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck