Tucson, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - With their Pac-12 title chances reborn the No. 5 Oregon Ducks will try to fend off the Arizona Wildcats in the a conference collision this weekend.
Thanks to Stanford's 20-17 loss to USC last weekend the Ducks are back on top of the Pac-12 North Division. The Ducks, who lost to the Cardinal two weeks ago (26-20), took down Utah (44-21) over the weekend and are now 6-1 in league play. That conference record puts them a half game ahead of the Cardinal in the league standings with two games to play. Oregon is boasting a 9-1 record overall and though the chances are slim, there is still hope that it could get into the national championship picture.
"Now we have the right to control our own destiny. But really its just one game at a time like we always take it," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said." To have that opportunity to possibly play in the Pac-12 championship is huge. But we can't overlook things. We can't slip up and look past Arizona. Our focus is here today and getting ready for Arizona."
Arizona has been slipping recently. The Wildcats dropped back-to-back home games in the last two weeks with setbacks against UCLA (31-26) and Washington State (24-17). The recent stumbles have not been a great sign late in the year for the Wildcats, who are now 6-4 overall and far from contention for the Pac-12 crown at 3-4 in league action. Playing at home isn't guaranteed to give the Wildcats much of an advantage as they have just three wins in five tries at Wildcat Stadium.
"It was just poor execution. We had too many unforced errors, dropped snaps and easy field goals missed, " Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said." Our margin for error is very slim and if we play poorly it will be hard for us to win."
Last year Oregon forced five turnovers and racked up 495 yards of total offense in posting a 49-0 rout of the Wildcats at Autzen Stadium. The win was the fifth straight against Arizona for Oregon, which leads the all-time series by a count of 24-14.
Other than its slip-up against Stanford, Oregon has been dominating on offense week in and week out. The Ducks lead the Pac-12 and are second nationally in total offense (580.2 ypg), while scoring 50.9 points per game.
At the center of all that success is Mariota, who has been hobbled by some knee issues in recent weeks, but has still remained productive. Mariota threw for 288 yards and three scores on 19-of-26 passing against Utah to add to an already impressive campaign. Mariota has thrown for 2,819 yards and 25 scores on 64.2 percent passing. Even more impressive is the zero interceptions he has thrown. Mariota is currently riding a Pac-12 record of 353 pass attempts without an interception. Mariota has had negative rushing totals in each of the last two weeks, but with 477 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground he is still a threat with his legs.
Even without Mariota running the ball the Ducks are still dangerous on the ground thanks to a stable of talented backs. Chief among them is Byron Marshall (991 yards, 14 TDs). Marshall has not had a 100-yard effort in back- to-back games but is still near the 1,000-yard mark on the campaign. Marshall had 66 yards and two scores on 11 carries against Utah. Thomas Tyner (496 yards, eight TDs) and De'Anthony Thomas (410 yards, seven TDs) are each effective rushers as well.
There is also plenty of talent on the outside where Josh Huff and Bralon Addison have been catching passes. Huff (45 receptions, 802 yards, seven TDs) leads the team in receiving yards and is coming off a four-receptions, 57-yard outing against Utah. Addison (47 receptions, 742 yards, seven TDs) is equally productive.
Oregon is not as productive on defense but it is still a solid group. The Ducks rank fourth in the Pac-12 in yards allowed (354.8 ypg) and have been even more impressive in limiting scoring to a Pac-12 best 18.2 ppg. Much of that is due to opportunistic play by the Ducks, who are tied for the second most forced turnovers (24) in the Pac-12. Terrance Mitchell (47 tackles, five INTs) and Tony Washington (7.5 sacks) are the real playmakers for the Ducks.
Againstee you you're going to have a good game," Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood said following the loss to Cincinnati. "But what it does guarantee is you're going to move in the right direction eventually. Unfortunately that gets lost when you have a score like we did today."
J.J. Worton hauled in a diving, one-handed catch in the back of the end zone with nearly a minute to play and Shawn Moffitt knocked in a 23-yard field goal as time expired to lift UCF to a 39-36 road victory over Temple last weekend. The win was the fifth straight for the Knights, who are 8-1 overall and a perfect 5-0 in league action. Surprisingly enough the Knights lone loss of the season, a 28-25 setback against No. 11 South Carolina, came at home. Even so, with three games to go the Knights control their own destiny in earning the AAC's automatic BCS bid.
"It was a great win," UCF wide receiver Jeff Godfrey said, though he was quick to address where the team's focus lies. "Let's put that past us. Next opponent up is Rutgers and we have to be more excited for that game and not the last game, which was a great win as a team the whole team contributed to that win but on to the next opponent."
These teams were matched up for the first and only time during the 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl. In that contest the Scarlet Knights earned a 45-24 victory behind a three-touchdown performance from Mohamed Sanu.
Sanu is no longer making plays for the Scarlet Knights, who could certainly use some more weapons on offense. Rutgers is managing just under 30 points per game this season, while ranking in the bottom half of the AAC in total offense (396.8 ypg).
Starting quarterback Gary Nova really struggled in the loss to Cincinnati as he completed just 18-of-38 pass attempts for a 170 yards and just one touchdown to two interceptions. It was the second time in the last three games Nova has had less than 200 yards passing and a completion rate below 50 percent. Nova is connecting on 57.2 percent of his pass attempts this season and has totaled 2,052 yards and 18 touchdowns. However, he has been too mistake prone, with 13 interceptions in nine games.
Nova's uneven play has come despite a solid receiving corps making plays for Rutgers. Leonte Carroo (27 receptions, 469 yards, nine yards) has really blossomed into a big-play threat for the offense but he has not been consistent. In three of last four games Carroo has had fewer than 20 yards. Brandon Coleman (28 receptions, 403 yards, three TDs) is another skilled receiver, who had his best game since the opener against Cincinnati with six receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Tyler Kroft (25 receptions, 356 yards, three TDs) is another reliable target that hasn't always gotten a ton of work.
After missing four-straight weeks due to injury, leading rusher Paul James (651 yards, six TDs) came back strong for Rutgers against Cincinnati as he tallied 78 yards on 19 carries. James has rushed for at least 80 yards in every game he has played this season, including three straight 100-yard efforts to start the year. Backup Justin Goodwin (457 yards, four TDs) performed admirably in James' place.
Rutgers' signature defense has not been so impressive this season. The Scarlet Knights are eighth in the AAC in yards allowed (433 ypg) and scoring defense (31.4 ppg). The unit was especially weak in the loss to Cincinnati when it allowed 619 yards of total offense and nearly nine yards per play. Steve Longa (83 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks) and other major contributors need to tighten things up to remain competitive.
In its thrilling win over Temple, UCF showed just how explosive it can be offensively, racking up 657 yards of total offense. After the performance the Knights are still just fourth in the league in total offense (455.3 ypg), but that has been more than enough production.
Worton (31 receptions, 500 yards, seven TDs) became the third member of the team to reach the 500-yard plateau for the year with his efforts against Temple. Worton didn't just wait until the end of the game to make plays as he finished with 10 catches for a career-high 179 yards and three scores. Worton has had three 100-yard showings this year. Also over the 500-yard mark with three 100-yard efforts is Rannell Hall (40 receptions, 639 yards, three TDs), who may not have scored against Temple, but still finished with nine receptions for 159 yards. Breshad Perriman (27 receptions, 567 yards, TD) did not play against Temple and is doubtful again this week with a concussion.
Getting the ball to Worton and Hall is Blake Bortles, who is turning in a strong year under center. Bortles has completed 68.1 percent of his passes and is nearing 2,500 yards and the 20-touchdown mark for the campaign. Even more impressive for the Knights is how well Bortles has controlled the ball, with just five interceptions in nine games. Bortles had a career-high four touchdown passes and 403 yards on 27-of-38 passing against the Owls.
Storm Johnson is the leading rusher for the Knights with 841 yards and nine touchdowns on 156 carries. Johnson rushed for 122 yards against Temple but his efforts were largely overshadowed by the passing game. Johnson has rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back games though and four contests overall this year. William Stanback (341 yards, five TDs) also gets a good deal of work.
UCF hasn't been a dominant defensive team this year. The Knights rank fifth in the conference in yards allowed (369.8 ypg) and are tied for third in scoring defense (20.6 ppg). UCF has forced the third-most turnovers in the league (21) and has the second best opponent red zone conversion rate (18-of-26). Terrance Plummer (73 tackles, 7.0 TFK, 2.0 sacks, two INTs) has been a multi-faceted contributor.