Oregon State Preview
It’s official, the Arizona Wildcats have gone from the hunters to the hunted. Sitting atop the Pacific-10 Conference with a giant target on their backs, it’s a whole new experience for a new generation of Wildcats. It feels great doesn’t it? Ranked nationally in the Top 10 in the AP poll at number 9, and the whole country is now noticing what’s been building in Tucson for the last few seasons. Take the last game as all the proof you need to see that we are indeed the giants that teams look to slay. Cal came out inspired, especially defensively, and gave us all we could handle.
If not for Juron Criner’s gutsy performance, we could very easily be sitting here at 3-1 looking to get back on track, but Criner made two huge plays, and give some credit to Nick Foles as well on those, and we’re right where we want to be, looking to improve to 5-0 on Saturday. For those who aren’t aware, Criner played with turf toe, an especially tough injury for a wide receiver to play with, and he made the biggest plays of the night for the offense in the 4th quarter. Enter this week’s opponent, the Oregon State Beavers, who are familiar with the underdog role after falling to two Top 10 opponents already this season.
OSU has not had they season they envisioned at 2-2, and their two wins have been lackluster with wins over Louisville and Arizona State by a total of 10 points. Their two losses were to TCU and Boise State, both of which played in the Fiesta Bowl last season. No shame in those losses, but fans in Corvallis had higher expectations than .500 ball at this point in the season. If that isn’t motivation enough, OSU has had some success in recent years against Arizona. The Cats have dropped 3 of the last 4 matchups with the Beavers with the lone win coming last year.
Many Wildcat fans remember last years contest for a number of reasons. It was Nick Foles first start of his career, and he responded with 254 yards and 3 TD passes to help Arizona win a thrilling 37-32 contest. It was also the game that Nic Grigsby’s injury plague began, as he failed to get more than 9 carries the rest of the season in a game. Greg Nwoko scored his first collegiate TD in that game as well.
So what we know at this point is this, even as a -9 point opening line favorite in Vegas, this game is as tough to call as any of the season. Remember, four of the last six meetings between these teams have been decided by 7 points or less. Working in Arizona’s favor is the fact that we’re coming off a much needed bye week. The Cal game was very emotional, and hard fought, and exposed some chinks in the Wildcat armor, especially on offense. It also gives Criner the ability to get healthier in his recovery from the aforementioned turf toe injury.
It also never hurts to have an extra week to prepare for the Rodgers Brothers, the bane of the Wildcats existence the last few years. James Rodgers prepares for his final meeting with Arizona while coming off a bye week of his own. He did not play in last weekend’s game with Arizona State due to a concussion, but all signs point to the senior wide out returning this week. His freshman year against Arizona he was held to only one catch, but did have an electrifying 40 yard run on a reverse. The last two seasons against the UA, James has averaged 9 catches and 110.5 yards per contest. No small task when you consider he always draws Arizona’s top corner.
As for Jacquizz Rodgers, he gave Arizona problems on both the ground and through the air last season accounting for 85 yards and 2 TD’s on the ground, and 13 catches for 70 yards through the air. It was almost as if he was trying to make up for only getting 2 series against Arizona in 2008 before succumbing to a shoulder injury during his freshman season. Keeping these two in check is a very tall task, but the #3 ranked scoring defense better be up to it. Oregon State knows how to score points as evident by the 31 they put up against a stingy ASU defense last week.
Remember though, Cal came into the game two weeks ago scoring 52 points in each of their 3 previous games, and Arizona’s defense held them to a mere 9 points. To expect that kind of effort against OSU is a lofty goal to say the least, and that means the Cats offense must find a way to get back on track, because the 10 spot they threw on the board last week will likely not cut it this weekend. To make matters more pressing for the Arizona offense, Oregon State is the only team in the FBS yet to commit a turnover, so the offense will have to do their part without counting on great field position.
Sophomore Ryan Katz will be under center facilitating the Beaver attack this season, as Sean Canfield is now on the New Orleans Saints practice squad roster. Canfield threw for over 300 yards last season against the Cats, but to expect that out of Katz is a bit much. Katz shouldn’t be overlooked though as the young quarterback is coming off his best start of his career against ASU. He completed 65.5% of his passes for 260 yards and a pair of TD passes. Arizona can go a long way towards winning this game by putting the pressure on him. In the two Beaver losses, Katz completed less than 50 percent of his passes, and he’s 2-0 when he completes over that mark.
Other playmakers to watch on offense are tight end Joe Halahuni who has a couple of TD catches this season, and is tied with James Rodgers and Jordan Bishop for the team lead in receptions with 9 a piece. Speaking of Bishop, he stepped in for the injured Rodgers admirably last week, catching 4 balls for 86 yards as the number 1 wide out. With Rodgers back, these three will look to give Katz options in the passing game.
If it comes down to the kicking game, the Beavs will call on senior place-kicker Justin Kahut. He’s used to taking and making big kicks, so it will be important to keep that in mind if the game is close down the stretch. He’s made just under 75% of his field goal attempts during his career, and was 2nd Team All-Pac-10 last season.
Defensively for Oregon State, it’s been a forgettable start to the season. They rank 96th in the country allowing 30.8 points per game, which also ranks as a mere 8th in the conference. They’re giving up an average of 434.8 yard per game, and only Washington and Washington State have been worse on defense, and the Cats can look forward to facing those two squads later in the season. The conditions are certainly right for Foles and the offense to get back on the right track. However, one player to keep an eye on is senior linebacker Keith Pankey. He led the Beavs with 15 tackles last week, and has been a bright spot from his OLB position, after coming back from an Achilles injury in February. If that isn’t a testament to the toughness of this young man, nothing is. He is a force, and should draw a lot of attention from the Arizona offense.
Prediction: Oregon State 21, Arizona 31
Kickoff: 4PM on Saturday, Family Weekend
Series History: Arizona leads Oregon State 21-11-1 (last meeting, 2009, 37-32 Arizona).