Arizona has enjoyed a reversal of fortunes in 2017. The Wildcats have already reached bowl eligibility and could match the highest win total of head coach Rich Rodriguez's tenure. The Wildcats owe their turnaround in large part to quarterback Khalil Tate, a player teammates say "changed [the] program."
A blossoming Heisman Trophy contender, Tate and Co. look to bounce back from Arizona's first loss of the season with him at the helm of the offense, a 49-35 defeat at USC that dramatically complicated the Wildcats' hopes of winning the Pac-12 South division. Arizona will be playing at home for the final time this season against an Oregon State team in a very similar situation to the one the Wildcats endured a year ago.
The Beavers are 1-8 and losers of seven straight, five by 29 points or more. Their struggles early in the season led to Gary Andersen's unexpected resignation as head coach. Since interim Cory Hall stepped in last month, Oregon State has been much more competitive. The Beavers lost to Stanford by one point on the Cardinal's final possession; by three points to Colorado after leading much of the game; and by two touchdowns to Cal after the Golden Bears pulled away.
Oregon State looks capable of springing an upset in one of its final three games; will it come at Arizona's expense?
Oregon State at Arizona
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 10 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Arizona -22
Three Things to Watch
1. Containing Khalil
USC built a 22-point over Arizona and held the Wildcats out of the end zone for two and a half quarters last week by employing an aggressive blitz, with a linebacker staying home trained on quarterback Khalil Tate. It was the most successful stretch any defense has had against the Arizona offense since Tate became the full-time quarterback on Oct. 7. Look for Oregon State to try to replicate USC's approach the best it can.
The Beavers have not been bad against the run, all things considered. Opponents average 188.7 yards per game against Oregon State, but less than 4.7 yards per carry. If the Beavers can contain Tate's explosive plays, that will turn Arizona into more of a throwing team — and that presents the opportunity for takeaways, an invaluable equalizer in this kind of matchup.
2. Run-game battle
Both teams want to establish the run early, though their approaches differ dramatically. Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez is a celebrated innovator of zone-read option football, and this Wildcat team runs it more effectively than any Rodriguez has had in six seasons in Tucson.
Arizona aims to move the ball quickly, peppering defenses with rushes from a variety of ball carriers: Tate, speedy running back J.J. Taylor, the more traditional feature back Nick Wilson (playing his final game at Arizona Stadium), goal-line power back Zach Green and even wide receiver Shun Brown on jet sweeps.
Conversely, Oregon State attacks with a methodical, power style behind Ryan Nall (above, right) and Thomas Tyner. Nall was a breakout star a season ago, including roughing up Arizona for 124 yards. The Beavers' approach is integral to slowing the Wildcats, as ball control is one way of keeping Arizona from breaking off explosive offensive plays.
3. Arizona on alert
Oregon State has shown under the enthusiastic Cory Hall that it has the capacity for springing an upset. The Beavers have been close a few times under their interim head coach, and chances are that they will cash in against one of their final three opponents.
Arizona's an intriguing possibility, because the Beavers have dominated at Arizona Stadium historically. Prior to the Wildcats' 2015 win, Oregon State boasted a winning streak in Tucson going back nearly two decades.
Oregon State's roster also features a trio of recruits from Tucson-based Pima College, including Timmy Hernandez, who caught a touchdown pass against the Wildcats a season ago. There's that revenge element to consider, all of which suggests Arizona needs to come out on alert despite Oregon State's dismal record.
Oregon State has played much more inspired football under Cory Hall, and an upset down the stretch seems likely. A win at Arizona would be quite the feather in the interim coach's cap, but a difficult one to obtain.
The Wildcats present matchup challenges for the Beavers. Arizona's electric offensive play of late should pull Oregon State into an up-tempo game, which is the exact opposite of what the Beavers need if they hope to pull off an upset.