STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL/GAME BREAKDOWN
Key Matchup:Oregon Run Defense vs. Arizona Run Offense
You can expect Saturday’s game to be physical in the trenches with the way Arizona runs the ball and how Oregon stops it. The Ducks enters the game with Pac-12’s second-best rush defense (116.3 ypg) while the Wildcats have the conference’s second-best rushing offense (196.5 ypg).
“I know the types of problems that he poses for opponents and he has a great feel for the game,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said of Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin. “He creates mismatches… he creates air and space for athletes to make plays and they certainly have a lot of athletes.”
Arizona running back JJ Taylor averages 102.1 yards per game, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Not the biggest player at 5-foot-6, Taylor packs a punch with his 184-pound frame. He’s got great balance when running the ball, often staying low to the ground and bouncing off tackles, making him difficult to bring down. He also has a crazy burst that catches secondaries off guard and before they can react, he’s off to the races. He is the majority of the Arizona offense, touching the ball an average of 18.5 times per game.
It’s good for Oregon that stopping Taylor is the key to stopping the Wildcats because the Ducks’ run defense is a nasty bunch.
Oregon gives up just 3.23 yards per carry, the 14th best mark in the nation. A combination of size and athleticism, this unit stops the run in a multitude of ways as each player understands their role on every play.
Nose tackle Jordon Scott is the anchor, a 329-pound behemoth who plugs up both “A” gaps as well as anybody in college football. Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins are the edge-setters, players who often take on pulling linemen yet still have the power to set the edge and force the ball carriers back to the middle. That’s where linebackers Troy Dye and Kaulana Apelu, the team’s leading tacklers, come into play. With the opposing offensive line dealing with Oregon’s defensive front, Dye and Apelu are free to dissect and attack.
Even with Taylor having a career year, Sumlin thinks the rushing unit as a whole can get better with improved line play. Too many times do the Wildcats give up negative plays rushing the ball, allowing penetration early and hoping for Taylor to do magic in the behind the line of scrimmage.
“I think what you're getting at is there are some things that are really positive that come out of Saturday night,” Sumlin said following the loss to UCLA last weekend. “The communication, what we did, we had some negative yardage plays — it's not like everything is broken, but it can be better.”
Arizona’s line struggles bode well for an Oregon defensive that has made a living in the opponent’s backfield. The Ducks have average 5.6 tackles for loss per game, with Hollins leading the way with nine on the season.
“Their running backs will make you miss, they're explosive, they'll create big chunk plays as well, explosive plays — they're running behind an offensive line that is long, athletic,” Cristobal said of Arizona. “So they present some challenges, one that our defense, obviously we're very eager to get back to play but knowing we have to prepare to do so to play well.”
This is a matchup that features best against best and strength against strength. If Arizona can find success running the ball, it might just pull off the upset. But if the Ducks can negate Taylor and the Wildcats running game, Oregon will fly high late in the desert.