Arizona-Oregon State: 5 things to watch, prediction

Arizona's Shun Brown was on the receiving end of one of Khalil Tate's long touchdown passes last week.Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Topics include: Khalil Tate going left, pressuring the QB

Arizona begins Pac-12 play Saturday at Oregon State in a game that kicks off at 1 p.m. on the Pac-12 Networks.

Both teams are 1-2, with the Wildcats favored by 6.5 points.

Here are some things to watch:

1. Make Khalil Tate go to his left. Maybe this is a thing. Columnist John Canzano of the Oregonian asked former Oregon defensive coordinator and current Pac-12 Networks analyst Nick Aliotti about how teams are scheming against Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate.

Aliotti's answer: Keep him from running or rolling to his right.

"Make him go left, play left and go left-handed," Aliotti said. "That's your best chance of stopping him. Maybe people have figured that out."

Tate is coming off a career-high 349-yard passing performance against Southern Utah, completing 13 of 20 passes.

As was often the case in the first two games, Tate and Wildcats took plenty of deep shots, this time connecting on four pass plays of at least 50 yards. At no time did Southern Utah force Tate to his left.

Tate:

--Dropped straight back for a 55-yard completion to Tony Ellison.

--Worked back to his right for the 53-yard bomb to Devaughn Cooper.

--Had all day before taking a couple of steps to his right before a 65-yard TD throw to Shun Brown.

--Rolled right before lofting an over-the-shoulder pass to Shawn Poindexter for a 75-yard score.

Maybe Oregon State wants to -- and can -- deny Tate the right side of the ball. Maybe it's a thing. We'll see.

"You got to get off blocks, as much as possible try to keep him contained," Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith told reporters this week. "Which is tough to do; he's such a great athlete."

2. The Turnover Chainsaw. Seems like everybody this season is trying to copy the Miami Hurricanes' Turnover Chain, a sideline prop that the team debuted last year to reward defenders who came up with takeaways.

Now come the copycats.

Boise State has a Turnover Throne. Memphis has a Ric Flair-styled Turnover Robe. Tulane plays into the New Orleans theme with Turnover Beads. This one is even better: Louisville, with a nod to favorite son Muhammad Ali, has the Turnover Gloves and Turnover Belt.

Florida State, in a sad commentary to the team's horrible start, has the Turnover Backpack.

That's just a partial listing of new sideline trophies.

Oregon State has one, too.

The Beavers, playing off the theme of a chainsaw noise that plays at Reser Stadium when the opponent faces third down, created the Turnover Chainsaw, starting with the second game of the season. Oregon State didn't come with a turnover in that game -- vs. Southern Utah -- but had one last week at Nevada and will be eager to unleash the Chainsaw (it doesn't really have a chain) at home Saturday.

"When we unveiled it in the defensive room, the guys went nuts," OSU defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar told the Oregonian. "That's ultimately what it's all about. We want guys to have fun out when they're out there playing."

What would an Arizona turnover prop look like? The Turnover Sugar Skull?

3. Getting some pressure. According to stats from remarkable.inside-edge, Arizona hasn't been able to pressure the quarterback in the exact situations in which it should be able to pressure the quarterback: third-and-long.

The website notes that the Wildcats have pressured the quarterback only three times when the opponent has had 7 to 10 yards to go on third down.

Considering Oregon State figures to be without one half of its quarterback rotation -- Jake Luton suffered a sprained ankle last week -- being able to disrupt the timing and rhythm of Conor Blount is even more important. Blount has completed 39 of 61 passes for 570 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception.

Maybe there's hope: Oregon State has allowed 11 sacks in three games.

Arizona needs to involve its linebackers in the pass rush, and perhaps defensive tackle P.J. Johnson can help if he returns from missing two games due to injury. At the least, the big guy can occupy multiple blockers to free up his teammates.

4. Expect loads of offense. Arizona put up 62 points last week, although the level of competition casts doubt whether the Wildcats can do that against even a bottom-level Pac-12 foe. Oregon State ranks last in the league and 122th nationally in total defense (522.0 yards allowed per game). Arizona is 11th in the league and 111th in the nation at 468.7 yards allowed.

Under first-year coach Smith, a former Oregon State quarterback, the Beavers are playing fast and spreading the field horizontally to open up the deep passing game.

Running back Jermar Jefferson is averaging 130.3 rushing yards per game, best in the nation for a freshman. Sophomore Isaiah Hodgins had 200 receiving yards last week at Nevada, when Oregon State lost 37-35 after missing a 33-yard field goal as time expired.

5. Tate's running. A continuing storyline. Tate, in his past six games, dating to last season, has rushed 61 times for 158 yards. That's less than half of the yardage he had in his record-setting game against Colorado (327 yards).

Are teams figuring him out? Is he not being used correctly by new head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone? Is Tate too hyper-focused on his passing ability? Is his ankle completely healthy?

And ...

Who wins? In a close game, I would normally default to which team has the better quarterback -- and that's Arizona. But my gut tells me that Oregon State has the energy and offense to win its Pac-12 opener at home and snap a nine-game skid in conference play. Oregon State 41, Arizona 35.

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Steve Rivera
Steve Rivera

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Wow. Like the pick....



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