I predicted the scenario that happened in Pullman, on Saturday. Others were insistent that the Ducks would blow out the Cougars. But after turning on the television, the Cougs were up by seven.
In my last article I mentioned that the mid-level pass defense wasn’t effective against Michigan State, so it’s only natural to think that in a game against the QB with the most passing yards in college football (Connor Halliday), the Ducks wouldn’t be any better.
The game tonight features a whole not-so-new animal in Arizona. A team with an offense that has a passing attack as lethal as the Cougs, but armed with a more potent running game. The standout on the offense has to be wide-out Cayleb Jones. Jones is fifth in the nation and leads the Pac-12 in receiving yards (475).
Jones is a threat at any distance as a receiver, with his large frame and height (six-foot-three). He caught three touchdown passes in the game against Cal, and each showcases his ability to catch the ball anywhere on the field. The Ducks, who are currently lower down on the passing defense totem pole, will have to step up their game if they want to contain the Jones-led receiving corps.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Wildcats are a lot less of a force, much like Washington State. The 45 points given up to Cal might be a yawn-jerker for many Ducks fans looking forward to this matchup. It is also possible to look at how narrow the Wildcat’s defeats have been, too, and wonder just how legitimate their record is, given their opponents’ lack of strength.
With all that Arizona has to offer, it’s completely realistic to believe they’ll play the Ducks just as hard as the Cougs. The opposing defense is never really what’s in question with Oregon, because hitting 40 is realistic against any defense.
It’s how Oregon will stop the other team that has always been the real question. There were not glimpses, but long periods of time, against Michigan State and Washington State where the game looked like it could get out of hand and lead to an Oregon defeat, all because of the opponents’ impressive passing game.
It’s hard to go without mentioning the man behind all of this offensive ascendancy, Anu Solomon, and his standout numbers when bringing up the Wildcats. As a redshirt freshman, the dual-threat quarterback Solomon has passed for more than 1,450 yards and ran for 167 in his first four games.
Solomon’s passing yards are second only to Halliday’s in the Pac-12, and he is third (by one yard) behind Taylor Kelly and leader Marcus Mariota for rushing yards by a QB in the Pac-12. The running-style quarterback is something the Ducks haven’t seen this year, and is another variable they’ll have to watch out for if they have made improvements in their passing defense.
So, after watching the first four games, it’s obvious to see the pattern — over-the-middle passes are key in beating the Ducks. But will that formula work for a full 60 minutes? Oregon hasn’t lost yet this season, but this is a possible concern.
Oregon has once recently had to Bear Down to Arizona, and the Wildcats have the offense capable of beating the Ducks once more. Solomon is putting up gargantuan numbers rivaling former ‘Cat Nick Foles and Cayleb Jones is more like Julio Jones, so the Ducks will certainly will have their hands full on defense.
In the end, it looks like the Ducks are about to face accomplished, well-developed players. But this is no novelty.
And, as is usually the case, the Ducks do take the time to address weak points. As shown by the season, winning – a pattern that is also in play – is one habit that Oregon wishes to keep.
Both offenses should be proven that they can be stopped since Arizona will observe how good the Cougs defended the Ducks in their last game and held them under 40 points for the first time this season. The Ducks will also exploit Arizona — unlike the last four opponents they faced which were clearly less talented. This is why I predict an Oregon victory 39 – 21. Go Ducks.
Top photo by Kevin Cline