The Arizona Wildcats took care of business against Oregon State last weekend to improve to 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the Pac-12.
This is just the second time in Rich Rodriguez’s six seasons at the UA in which the Wildcats will finish conference play with a winning record.
They will look to stay hot next Saturday against a struggling Oregon Ducks team. This showdown will take place in Eugene which is home to Autzen Stadium, one of the rowdiest environments in the Pac-12.
Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Network. Here’s some background info on the Ducks.
A look at Oregon
2017 Record — 5-5 (2-5 Pac-12)
Key Games — Week two win versus Nebraska (45-35), week four loss at ASU (37-35), week five win versus Cal (45-24), week eight loss at UCLA (31-14)
Key Offensive Players — Justin Herbert (QB), Royce Freeman (RB), Charles Nelson (WR), Jake Hanson (Center)
Key Defensive Players — Henry Mondeaux (DE), Troy Dye (LB), Arrion Springs (CB), Tyree Robinson (Safety)
First-year head coach Willie Taggart has experienced a season of ups and downs. The Ducks went 3-0 in non-conference play, and entered week four as No. 24 team in the country.
That ranking was short-lived as they lost a heart breaker in Tempe against ASU where the Ducks battled back to take the lead in the fourth quarter after being down 31-14 in the second half, before losing 37-35 on a late field goal.
From there, the Ducks would lose four of their next six games and currently hold a 2-5 conference record which is tied for second worse in the Pac-12 North.
Oregon has really struggled on defense during this stretch as they have allowed an average of 36 points per game. It’s easy to see that stat and point to the defense as the culprit for the overall team woes, but really a big driver for this is the injury to starting quarterback Justin Herbert.
Since Herbert’s injury in week five against Cal, Oregon’s offense has averaged 4.8 third down conversions in 14.2 attempts per game. The offense simply has not be able to sustain drives which wears down the defense.
During Herbert’s absence, true freshman Braxton Burmeister has been the starter. This is probably a familiar name for the Wildcat faithful as Burmeister was committed to UA and was expected as an early enrollee in January until he flipped to Oregon at the last minute.
Burmeister has completed 56.6 percent of his passes and has two touchdowns to six interceptions. In fairness, much of this action has taken place against the better defensive teams in the Pac-12 such as Washington State, Stanford and Washington.
As much as Arizona fans would love to have the opportunity to continue Burmeister’s struggles, it might not happen as Herbert has continued to progress with the rehabilitation of his collarbone injury. It has not been determined if Herbert will be healthy enough to start on Saturday against the Wildcats, though.
“We’ll check and see where it is next week,” Taggart told The Oregonian last week. “Ability-wise, he can go out and play. He could have played last week. With his bone healing, we want to make sure we do right by him and not go too early and have him re-injure himself. He has a heck of a future ahead of him and you don’t want to affect that as much as you want to win. You want to make sure you do right by the young man.”
If Herbert does play, the Ducks’ passing game will dramatically improve which will balance out Royce Freeman’s rushing attack. Freeman has reached the endzone 10 times and has already compiled 1,218 yards on the ground. He is going to be a lot to handle for UA’s defense.
Arizona will be facing a team that is on the brink of a bowl berth and wants nothing more to end the season with momentum to roll into 2018. The UA defense will have its hands full trying to contain and limit Freeman. This won’t be an easy task but if they’re able to do so Tate and the offense should ultimately be able to seal the victory.