Eugene, OR – A key Pac-12 matchup is on tap in Eugene this weekend, as the third-ranked Oregon Ducks welcome the 22nd-ranked Arizona Wildcats to Autzen Stadium for the conference-opener for both squads.
Chip Kelly has built a powerhouse in four years with the Ducks, who look as good as any team in the nation in the early stages of 2012. Oregon has opened the season with three straight wins thanks to a potent offensive attack. The Ducks have not posted less than 42 points thus far and enter this contest off a season-high 63-point eruption in a rout of Tennessee Tech last weekend.
Rich Rodriguez has brought his offensive scheme to Tucson and the Wildcats have bought in hook, line and sinker. Arizona boasts of one of the nation's most productive offenses and the result is a perfect 3-0 start after last weekend's 56-0 shutout of South Carolina State. This is the second ranked foe for Arizona, which dispatched Oklahoma State in the second week of the season, 59-38.
Oregon holds a 23-14 advantage in the all-time series with Arizona and won a shootout last year in Tucson, 56-31.
It hasn't taken long for Rich Rodriguez to put his stamp on the Wildcats, as his current personnel on the offensive side of the ball have taken to his up- tempo spread offense with ease. Thus far, Arizona is averaging 46.3 ppg and doing so on a hefty 604.7 yards of total offense (fourth nationally). Last weekend, the team missed the school-record for yards in a game by two, rolling up 689 yards in the shutout of South Carolina State.
It all begins with the play of dual-threat senior QB Matt Scott. The veteran signal-caller is completing an impressive 71.5 percent of his passes this season, for 995 yards, with seven TDs and just one INT in the first three games. He is also averaging just over 63 yards per game on the ground, with two more scores.
Scott is joined in the backfield by sophomore tailback Ka'Deem Carey, who is averaging 114.7 yards per game, on 5.7 yards per carry. Carey has also scored five of the team's nine rushing scores to date.
Scott has spread the wealth downfield, led by WRs Dan Buckner (22 catches, for 261 yards, one TD) and Austin Hill (17 receptions, 319 yards, one TD).
There hasn't been a real need for staunch defense much this season, but the Wildcats have made the necessary plays at the right time. The team is allowing just over 18 points per game and has racked up 18 TFLs and six forced turnovers thus far.
Linebacker Jake Fisher leads the way for Arizona with a team-high 33 tackles, including two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Safety Jared Tevis is a close second with 27 stops and is responsible for half of the team's four INTs.
The Ducks have been an offensive powerhouse under Kelly and nothing has changed this season. Oregon ranks fifth nationally in scoring at 54.0 ppg, fourth in rushing (329.0 ypg) and seventh in total offense (596.3 ypg).
By the way, the team can pass the ball too. Freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota has played like a seasoned-veteran thus far, completing 75.3 percent of his throws, for 674 yards, with eight TDs and just one INT.
Despite all the success, Mariota sees room for improvement following the Tennessee Tech win.
"I think as far as the offense goes, we are doing well. To put up 42 points in a little over two quarters I think is something to be happy about, but we're not satisfied and look forward to next week."
The real engine of this high-octane offense is the backfield duo of senior Kenjon Barner and sophomore De'Anthony Thomas. Neither back has been overworked. Barner leads the Ducks with 56 carries, for 324 yards (5.8 ypc) and six TDs. Anthony is the jewel of the offense though and would be considered a Heisman favorite if he touched the ball more. The youngster has just 13 carries through three games, but has scored four TDs on the ground, averaging a whopping 17.5 yards per carry. He also leads the team with 11 receptions, for 154 yards (51.3 ypg) and three more scores.
Rodriguez knows all about Anthony and what he is capable of.
"I remember when he got out of high school. We were trying to recruit him. I had a few conversations with him on the phone. At that time he was one of the most explosive high school players and now he is one of the most explosive college players. I mean, there's no one catching him. They'll hand him the ball, they'll throw it to him, and he'll return kicks and punts. He's a nice young man. I had no doubts that he was going to have a successful career. I just wish he wasn't in the Pac-12."
The Oregon defense will not be called upon to win games very often this year, but there is still playmakers on that side of the football. The team has been particularly strong against the pass, allowing just 200 yards per game through the air.
Sophomore DB Erik Dargan leads the Ducks in tackles with 15, including 2.0 TFLs and one fumble recovery. Senior DE Dion Jordan is a close second at 14 total tackles and is tied for the team-lead in sacks with junior DT Taylor Hart at two apiece.