Oregon vs Arizona: Quick-and-Dirty preview

by Kevin Nesgoda

The Oregon Ducks (8-1, 1st in Pac-12 North) will host the Arizona Wildcats (4-5, 5th in Pac-12 South) on Saturday, November 15th at 7:30 p.m. PT at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, OR. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and streaming on the ESPN app and site.

A lot of talk this week surrounds how Oregon has put themselves in a great position to make it to the College Football Playoff. In order for this to happen, though, they’ll need some added help from fate. FiveThirtyEight’s College Football Predictions gives the Ducks the fourth-best chance of making the Playoff, although only at 35%. It’s safe to say that both the Ducks and Utah Utes need each other to win out before a meeting in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Consequently, Arizona plays both Oregon and Utah over the next two weeks. The Wildcats have the toughest remaining schedule in all of the conference with Arizona State looming in the Territorial Cup. They’re fighting for bowl eligibility, of course, but the chance to play spoiler is always an intriguing one. Winning the Territorial Cup might end up being Arizona’s biggest achievement this season, but we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss their chances in either of these next two matchups.

Kevin Sumlin has a .633 win percentage in his nearly 12-year career as a head coach.
Photo by DianeCMcDonald via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Arizona employs a two-quarterback system of Senior Khalil Tate and Freshman Grant Gunnell. Duck fans will remember Tate for his role in upsetting a ranked Oregon in Tucson last year, but that’s not exactly a new trend. In the last three meetings between a ranked Oregon and unranked Arizona, the Wildcats have successfully played spoiler (2013, 2014, and 2018).

But back to Tate and Gunnell. Tate is the dual-threat guy, an established senior who’s been able to put up video-game numbers in some games. He’s a screen pass shy of 6,000 career passing yards right now and well over 2,000 rushing yards already. Despite Tate’s rushing threat (1400+ yds and 12 TDs on 9+ YPC in 2017), it was his backfield partner in crime—J.J. Taylor—who put up 228 yards and 2 TDs in Arizona’s 44-25 win over the Ducks last year.

Gunnell is a 6’6″, 225-lb freshman from Houston. Through six games he has 1,061 passing yards with 9 TDs and only 1 INT. He’s completing passes at a 66.4% clip. I’d imagine Arizona uses Gunnell and an Air Raid-style passing attack against Oregon as the Washington schools did. After all, they are the Pac-12 opponents who’ve had the greatest success against the Ducks so far. The flip side of this, of course, is the fact that the Ducks secondary has the most interceptions in the nation (17) and Autzen isn’t exactly the best place for a visiting freshman quarterback to shine. (I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of him as Arizona’s QB of the future, though.)

Ok, so how could Arizona beat Oregon? How does a 4-5 team destined for a bowl-less season go on the road and defeat a playoff contender on an eight-game win streak?

The short answer is that they don’t. The longer answer is that either someone gets injured or the Ducks become completely unfocused over the bye week, which is highly unlikely with so many leaders on the team. I’m anticipating this will be the week everyone can turn #Pac12AfterDark off early, at least for this game.

Like I’ve said for the past eight games, Oregon knows they’re the better team. It all comes down to focus and execution. These are the games in which Mario Cristobal Co. needs to beat the spread, not just the team across from them.

The Ducks did so against Colorado and USC, but all other Pac-12 games have been tougher than expected, including those against clearly lesser opponents (Stanford, Cal, Wazzu). This Saturday’s spread is set at -27 for Oregon. I think that’s definitely a coverable spread and has been my personal goal for this game before I even looked it up.

I have to say, though, it’s kinda fun to be in competitive games sometimes. The 2010 days of steamrolling 90% of our schedule are over. This is a different program with a new identity. Instead of outrunning everyone to the end sone most of the time, we are a more balanced and physical squad. It may not be as appealing, but as long as it wins, it works for me.

Prediction: Ducks 59, Wildcats 17

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