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Arizona Wildcats vs. Oregon State Beavers Prediction and Preview

Arizona Wildcats QB Khalil Tate

Arizona Wildcats QB Khalil Tate

Arizona and Oregon State carry identical records into their Pac-12 opening matchup against one another on Saturday. But their respective paths to that 1-2 mark carry much different emotions.

For the Beavers, their first three games have offered some hope that they can take major steps forward after going winless in Pac-12 play for the second time in three years last season. Oregon State has shown vast improvement on offense. The Beavers ranked last in the Pac-12 in total offense last season but now lead the league in that category.

Arizona finally got in the win column against FCS opponent Southern Utah after losses to BYU and Houston. The Wildcats look nothing like a team that many experts expected to contend for a Pac-12 South title. Arizona's defense has struggled to get stops when it mattered and the Wildcat offense has been erratic at best.

Arizona leads the all-time series 23-15-1. Oregon State has won seven of its last nine when facing the Wildcats at home, including a 42-17 victory in 2016.

Arizona at Oregon State

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 22 at 4 p.m. ET

TV: Pac-12 Network

Spread: Arizona -6

Three Things to Watch

1. Will Oregon State build on a strong passing performance?

It appears that Oregon State may finally have a legit passing attack for the first time in a long time. The Beavers tore it up through the air in a 37-35 loss at Nevada. Conor Blount and Jake Luton combined to throw for 459 yards, the sixth-highest single-game total in school history.

Isaiah Hodgins and Timmy Hernandez were their preferred targets. Hodgins hauled in 14 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns, tying the school's single game record for receptions. He set new career highs for receptions, yards and touchdowns. Hernandez added 11 catches on 116 yards. They became the first Oregon State receivers since 2014 to catch at least 10 passes in a game.

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Luton completed 23-of-35 passes for 284 yards, before injuring his ankle in the fourth quarter. Blount threw for 175 yards on 12-of-20 passing. They averaged a combined 13.1 yards per completion.

2. Can Arizona get third down stops?

Moving the chains is becoming a trend for Arizona opponents on third down. The Wildcats have allowed other teams to convert 44.2 percent of their third downs through the first three games of the season. That ranks 109th among FBS teams.

It is one reason why BYU and Houston handed Arizona back-to-back losses. Things didn't get much better in a 62-31 win over Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds made it tough for the Wildcats for an entire half, in part, because they put together long drives. SUU converted 10-of-22 third downs and 5-of-6 fourth downs. Arizona's defense simply could not get off the field.

Arizona has faced 52 third downs through three games. That could spell trouble against an Oregon State offense that has blossomed early in the season. The Beavers lead the Pac-12 in total offense, averaging 527 yards per contest through their first three games.

3. Can Khalil Tate rediscover his running mojo?

It's no secret that Tate has not lived up to the preseason hype after he enjoyed a breakout season a year ago. Tate's electrifying running abilities have largely gone untapped through the first three games while his passing has been inconsistent.

Tate ran just four times against Southern Utah while still recovering from a sprained ankle he suffered against Houston. To date, the Arizona quarterback has generated 40 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries through three games.

Tate ended up doing most of his damage through the air against the Thunderbirds. He put up efficient numbers, completing 13 of 20 passes for 349 yards with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. But the Wildcats are not the same without Tate using his wheels to keep defenses off balance. Arizona's chances of building on the team's first win hinge on getting Tate more involved in the run game again.

Final Analysis

Oregon State has scored more than 30 points in three straight games for the first time since 2014. The Beavers are back to being to a threat on offense and now face an Arizona defense that hasn't proven it can defend all that well so far. Still, the Wildcats' offense seemed to turn a corner against Southern Utah and Oregon State hasn't taken a necessary leap forward on defense yet.

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Prediction: Arizona 40, Oregon State 36

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.