1) The defensive side of the ball is something people overlook with Oregon. What's the Ducks' biggest strength and biggest weakness, and how does that align with Arizona's offensive ambitions?
Oregon's defense is often overlooked, but its really been the key to Oregon's recent run. The Ducks have always had a good offense (maybe not as good as the last few years, but still good), but they were pretty mediocre on the defensive end for much of the last decade. Since Chip Kelly became coach, the Ducks have been able to recruit a ton of speed and depth while allowing DC Nick Aliotti to replace the meh bend-but-don't break scheme with an aggressive, attacking style.
Oregon runs a hybrid 3-4, and the strengths are many. They blitz a lot, but disguise it really well. They have uber-depth at every position. And they may have the best defensive line in the conference. Its an interesting matchup with Arizona. The Wildcats do a lot of things that the Ducks do offensively, so Oregon's defense will have seen the scheme played at a high level. They won't be afraid to put their corners on an island and try to shut down Carey and Scott in the run game. The biggest question mark right now is at free safety, where Oregon's defensive heart and soul in All-American candidate John Boyett is out for the season.
2) Watching last week's first half, there were a couple of Oregon mistakes (a botched punt return, an interception and some penalties) against Tennessee Tech. Does that worry you at all coming into this week?
Not really. Sure, the penalties were sloppy, but those can be cleaned up. The botched punt return and blocked field goal were pretty fluky. The interception was a bad throw, but a freshman is going to throw one of those from time to time. The things we worry about going into conference play are the consistency of the offensive line and the defense's ability to replace the injured John Boyett at safety.
3) De'Anthony Thomas is ridiculous. As good as Oregon's overall talent is, how much does he alone alter each game and Oregon's "eliteness" as a team? And is there any way to stop him?
The thing about DeAnthony Thomas is that he has an excellent shot to take it all the way every time he touches the ball, and Oregon uses him pretty much exclusively in ways that is going to get him the ball in space. And when put in a position to have to tackle him one on one, its an almost impossible task. The guy has 24 touches this season-seven have gone for touchdowns. Its not just the speed, but it's the elusiveness and the complete control that he has over his body. If there is a way to stop him, nobody has found it yet.
As far as the other part of your question, I'm not sure his presence alone effects Oregon's "eliteness" as a team. Remember, the Ducks won the conference two years in a row before DeAnthony arrived on campus. One player does not an elite team make. That said, he is probably the most dynamic and exciting player in the country. As can be seen from this week's Sports Illustrated cover, that simply adds a lot of attention to your program.
4) So Marcus Mariota is new. Do you feel like he's battle tested through three games, and how confident are you in him for this game? He looks very good, but he's young.
Mariota has certainly looked the part so far. He's efficient. He's poised. He makes all the throws, and is a pretty darn good runner to boot. Plus, Chip Kelly quarterbacks have a tendency to work out okay. The only question about Mariota is how he's going to handle adversity when he finds himself down at the half, or throws a couple of interceptions in a row or something, but that's only a question because he hasn't been in that situation yet. I'm okay with him not being in that situation for awhile.
5) Playing in Autzen is always a good thing. What has to go wrong for Arizona to have a chance in this one, and what's your final score prediction?
Turnovers. Oklahoma State put up a lot more yards than Arizona did, but Arizona was able to force turnovers and score touchdowns off of them. Arizona is a good offense, and will score points in this game. But Oregon is a better offense, and in theory should score more. But if Arizona can take a couple of those scores away and turn them into points of their own, that's their path to victory. That said, I do like an Oregon victory in this game, somewhere along the lines of 49-28.
Or, Arizona fans can take solace in the fact that Oregon has been crushed the last two weeks they've landed the SI cover.