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Oregon Ducks vs. Arizona Wildcats Game Preview and Prediction

Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota

For the second week in a row, the Pac-12 takes center stage on Thursday night with Oregon and Arizona set to meet in a high-scoring showdown in Eugene. The Ducks are the favorite to win the Pac-12 title and have a marquee win over Michigan State on their resume. But Oregon struggled in its last outing, only winning 38-31 at Washington State. Of course, winning on the road in the Pac-12 is never easy, and the Ducks were shorthanded on the offensive line. Arizona swept its non-conference slate with a 3-0 mark and used a last-second Hail Mary touchdown pass to beat California on Sept. 20.

There’s a revenge factor for Oregon in this game, as the Ducks were thoroughly dominated by Arizona 42-16 in late November last year. But prior to last season’s game, Oregon dominated the series over the Wildcats. The Ducks won five straight from 2008-12 and have claimed 12 victories in the last 15 games between these two programs.

Arizona at Oregon

Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)

TV Channel: ESPN

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Spread: Oregon -24

Three Things to Watch

1. Oregon’s Offensive Line

This unit garnered the most attention in Oregon’s 38-31 win over Washington State. Injuries have taken a toll on the starting lineup, and the Ducks allowed seven sacks in the victory against the Cougars on Sept. 20. Quarterback Marcus Mariota’s mobility alleviates some of the concern on the offensive line’s protection issues, but this unit will play a large role in determining how far Oregon can go this year. The Ducks are secretive regarding their injuries, so no one has any idea if tackles Jake Fisher or Andre Yruretagoyena will return for this game – or even at all in 2014. In their place, Oregon has turned to true freshman Tyrell Crosby and walk-on Matt Pierson to start at tackle. Will the line perform better than it did against Washington State? Arizona’s defensive front has forced nine sacks in four games, with most of their pressure coming from the linebackers. This is a key opportunity for the Ducks to work on some of the offensive line concerns, especially with a matchup against UCLA next Saturday.

2. Arizona QB Anu Solomon

Winning in Eugene isn’t easy, but Arizona at least has a shot behind quarterback Anu Solomon and an offense that is averaging 42 points per game in 2014. Solomon, a redshirt freshman, ranks second in the Pac-12 by averaging 363.5 yards per game and has thrown for at least three touchdowns in every contest in 2014. Solomon isn’t just limited to the air, as he is averaging 4.3 yards per carry and has 167 rushing yards this season. The redshirt freshman has yet to play in a hostile environment like Autzen Stadium, so this game is easily the toughest of his young career. How will Solomon respond? The Ducks rank 11th in pass defense in the Pac-12, but that stat can be overrated since it factors just yards allowed. However, opposing quarterbacks are completing 61.6 percent of their passes against Oregon, and the Ducks allowed Washington State to throw for 436 yards on Sept. 20. The opportunities will be there for Solomon to make plays in the passing game.

3. Arizona’s Defense

We mentioned Oregon’s offensive line earlier, but can Arizona’s defense find a way to slow down the Ducks’ high-powered attack? Stopping Oregon starts in the trenches, and the Wildcats have to find a way to get pressure on Mariota. But the Ducks aren’t a one-man show. Three running backs have at least 175 yards, with freshman Royce Freeman (261 yards) leading the way, and the receiving corps has gamebreakers, including freshman Devon Allen (21.4 ypc). Arizona has allowed at least 5.1 yards per play in three out of its four games this season. Will the Wildcats be able to get enough pressure on Mariota to disrupt the offense? Or can Jeff Casteel’s defense force a couple of turnovers to give their offense a short field to work from? Based on the first four games, the Wildcats have some work to do on this side of the ball, and if they can’t get stops, Oregon is going to have no trouble scoring points (as usual) in Eugene.

Final Analysis

Expect plenty of points on Thursday night. Oregon has to be careful to avoid peeking too far ahead to Arizona, but that shouldn’t be a problem for the Ducks. The Wildcats are getting better under coach Rich Rodriguez, and the offense has enough firepower to at least push Oregon into the second half. However, Arizona’s defense won’t have the answers to slow down the Ducks, as Mariota posts another huge effort to bolster his lead in the Heisman race.

Prediction: Oregon 48, Arizona 24