The 18th-ranked Oregon State Beavers will try to continue their hot start when they visit the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday night for a Pac-12 Conference showdown.
Oregon State is ranked for the first time since Oct. 10, 2010, and the No. 18 ranking is the team's highest since heading into the 2009 MAACO Bowl Las Vegas at No. 16. Oregon State and Notre Dame are the only two teams with two wins this season against teams that were ranked at the time of the game. The Beavers opened the season with a 10-7 win over Wisconsin, then notched a 27-20 victory at UCLA last weekend.
Head coach Mike Riley said he welcomes the increased attention that comes along with winning.
"It's a sign of good things, it's just a matter of how you handle it," he said following Monday's practice. "We've just got to keep the theme of this team going which is just working hard and getting ready to play."
Arizona tumbled out of the national rankings following last week's embarrassing 49-0 loss at the hands of second-ranked Oregon. The Wildcats, led by first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez, are playing a ranked team for the second straight week and the third time in a span of five games. They would love nothing more than to earn a win here before traveling to No. 8 Stanford next week.
Arizona holds a 21-13-1 edge in the head-to-head series, but OSU has won 11 of the last 13 meetings since 1999. During that stretch, the Beavers have won five in a row in Tucson.
With two games under their belts, the Beavers rank 12th in the nation in passing offense (327.5 ypg) but are only 110th in rushing (100.0 ypg). Third- year sophomore Sean Mannion threw for a career-high 379 yards to go along with two touchdowns in last week's win at UCLA. Markus Wheaton tallied nine catches for 150 yards, his 25th consecutive game with at least one grab, while Brandin Cooks finished with 175 yards on six catches. Storm Woods paced the ground game with 91 yards on 21 carries.
OSU comes into this matchup boasting the nation's No. 2 run defense (53.5 ypg). The Beavers did an excellent job of containing UCLA's Jonathan Franklin, who entered that game as the country's leading rusher with an average of 180.3 yards. Against the Beavers, Franklin was held to a mere 45 yards on 12 carries, way down from his average of 8.2 yards entering the game. In their previous three games, the Bruins had scored 15 touchdowns and averaged 622.0 yards to rank second nationally in total offense. However, OSU's defense held them to 444 yards and two TDs.
Incredibly, Arizona made five trips to the red zone against Oregon and managed to walk away with no points. After a tight first half, Arizona's first four drives of the second half all resulted in punts, and three of their next four drives ended with interceptions. The Ducks even returned two of their picks for touchdowns. The three interceptions thrown by Wildcats quarterback Matt Scott were a career-high, while running back Ka'Deem Carey was held to 79 yards on 21 carries. Arizona's passing attack was held under 300 yards for the first time in a full calendar year
During his weekly press conference, Rodriguez offered an honest assessment of the offense.
"We need to have some more explosive plays offensively, and we need to do better in the running game," Rodriguez said. "I don't think we're getting a good push up front sometimes. I don't think we're as strong as we need to be, and the guys understand that. Whether it's a lineman, receiver, or running back blocking, we have to do it with great leverage and great technique. That was not the case (against Oregon)."
For the most part, Arizona's defense held UO playmaker De'Anthony Thomas in check, as he finished with 97 all-purpose yards. The defense also held the Ducks, who entered the tilt averaging 6.2 yards per carry, to an average of 4.3 yards. In addition, the secondary broke up nine passes, while Jonathan McKnight notched his third interception in as many games. Jared Tevis racked up a team-best 12 tackles, two pass breakups and a pair of forced fumbles in the loss. Sir Thomas Jackson set a personal-best with 10 stops, while Tra'Mayne Bondurant also notched 10 tackles, including a career-best 3.0 for loss.