For Arizona, ending a two-game losing skid hinges on snapping another streak of 18 years.
The Wildcats last beat Oregon State in Arizona Stadium on Nov. 8, 1997, in a 27-7 decision. The 1997 campaign is noteworthy as it was then-Beavers head coach Mike Riley’s first in his first tour of duty in Corvallis.
The two teams that will face Saturday in Tucson features rosters of players who ranged from infants to preschoolers when Arizona last successfully defended its home field against Oregon State.
College Football Podcast: Week 6 Preview with Tom Dienhart
Oregon State at Arizona
Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: Arizona -8
Three Things to Watch
1. Arizona’s Quarterback Situation
Anu Solomon is still listed as day-to-day per Arizona’s injury report. No Solomon means backup Jerrard Randall could see his second start and third Pac-12 game captaining the offense for the majority.
Randall ran effectively in the Week 4 loss to UCLA, but was stymied by Stanford’s excellent rush defense a week ago. Randall struggled to effectively command the pass against both the Bruins and Cardinal, and Stanford took advantage of the more one-dimensional look, holding the Wildcats to a yard-per-carry average just over three.
“Solomon has so much experience,” Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen. “It’s hard for quarterback that doesn’t have a whole bunch of reps to come in there. I don’t expect the offense to differ completely…We haven’t really said, ‘this quarterback’s in the game’ during practice.”
Still, the difference in look from Solomon to Randall could be the difference in Oregon State defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake being able to load up against the run, or having to defend the pass more honestly.
“It’s a fast-paced offense that has a lot of high-level skill players,” Andersen added. “If you don’t stop the run, you better put a priority on that. If you don’t, it’s going to be a long game.”
2. Seth Collins, The Pac-12’s Next Star QB?
A struggling Arizona defense faces one of the most exciting, young players in the Pac-12, true freshman quarterback Seth Collins.
Collins is the perfect catalyst for Oregon State’s new offensive style, combining a big arm with explosive mobility out of the pocket. He’s still fine-tuning his passing, but in the meantime averaging 76.5 rushing yards per game.
With a bevy of linebackers injured, including All-American Scooby Wright, the Arizona defense is vulnerable against a prolific rushing attack. Collins and senior running back Storm Barrs-Woods will look to tag-team the ball-carrying duties against a susceptible Arizona front seven.
“When you lose a bunch of guys at one position, it’s probably tougher than when you lose guys at multiple positions,” Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “That’s been the first issue, and certainly we haven’t executed well. Not tackling well, not getting off blocks.”
The end result could be the first of many Pac-12 wins in what could be a stellar career for the budding star Collins.
3. Two Seasons on the Brink
A collectively young Oregon State team is in rebuilding mode under first-year head coach Andersen. However, a win Saturday on the road against the Pac-12’s defending South-division champion might speed along the rebuild process.
The Beavers are 2-2, and a win gets them halfway to bowl eligibility. The back-half of Oregon State’s schedule is manageable enough to reach the postseason, but not without a big road win somewhere along the way. With Arizona’s bevy of injuries, Saturday may be the Beavers’ best chance.
As for the home-standing Wildcats, a repeat as Pac-12 South champions may be out of the question with the 0-2 conference start. The campaign is still very much salvageable, but Arizona cannot afford a home loss to an inexperienced Oregon State bunch.
After opening league play with heavyweights UCLA and Stanford, Arizona faces a three-game stretch of Oregon State, Colorado and Washington State. On paper, this is the softest stretch of the Wildcats’ Pac-12 season, but starting it with a win is vital.
Arizona’s multitude of injuries showed each of the last two weeks, and it’s not getting any easier. The lone bright spot for the Wildcats is that this upcoming, three-game stretch is navigable enough that they can put together a solid run before the final month.
Oregon State’s pass defense is ranked atop the Pac-12, but the Beavers are giving up close to 5 yards per carry on the ground. Establishing Nick Wilson and Randall — if it is indeed Randall getting the call Saturday — is a must.
Arizona also needs a much faster start than it’s managed the last two weeks. The Wildcats went down big early in both losses.
The Wildcats and Beavers should both score points and log plenty of rushing yards. Saturday is likely to come down to mistakes, and Arizona’s slight experience edge — and, yes, even home-field advantage — should come into play.