A couple of summers ago when touring the west coast, I was fortunate enough to spend a nice lazy afternoon floating down the Willamette River in the heart of Eugene, Oregon on an inner tube. The air was cool, the water serene and the foliage of the Pacific Northwest breathtaking and peaceful. I was a long way from the dry dust and heat of the Sonoran Desert.
This Saturday, the Arizona Wildcats will similarly find themselves a long way from home. Worlds away and over 1300 miles from the friendly confines of Arizona Stadium, the Cat’s will play their first road game of the season. When juxtaposed against my laid-back drift through the heart of Eugene, Arizona faces a consuming challenge which will be neither enjoyable nor relaxing.
On paper, the game appears as if it could turn out to be a close game, as the teams share many similarities. The Oregon Ducks have the same 3-0 record as the Wildcats. The teams boast the top two scoring offenses in the PAC 12, both having PPG averages clustering around 50. The Wildcats maintain a better scoring defense than the Ducks as they have allowed fewer points, but the Ducks have allowed fewer yards from scrimmage.
Arizona has played a more difficult schedule than Oregon, but the Ducks have home field advantage. Could the game between these two offensive stalwarts be a preview of the PAC 12 championship?
Hold on. Before getting too caught up in their early offensive successes, let’s consider the fact that this game will be the first PAC12 game played this season for either of the teams. Based on their prior scoring averages, one might expect this game to be in the forties or the fifties in a high scoring affair. However, look for this game to be a sloppy one filled with penalties, mistakes and turnovers as the Wildcats and Ducks slowly adjust to the rigors of the inauguration of the conference season.
Also, because both teams have such potent offenses, expect both coaches to take control of time of possession by establishing the run game early and often. This reliance on the run game for both teams will greatly reduce the final score, as both Chip Kelly and Rich Rodriguez try to eat up clock in an attempt at resting their defenses and keeping the other team’s offense off the field.
Therefore, this game will be won or lost at the line of scrimmage. The team that can run the ball authoritatively or stop the other team’s running game effectively will be victorious. If Arizona wants to be the winner in this game, they will have to be stout on the line and shut down the Ducks’ running game. Or should I say shoot down the Ducks running game? If Arizona cannot control the line of scrimmage, then the Ducks will have a leisurely glide down the Willamette and dominate.