Pac-12 play is upon us. The Arizona Wildcats have a chance to start over and also have a winning streak at the same time.
They head to Corvallis to take on the Oregon State Beavers Saturday afternoon where first place in the Pac-12 South is on the line.
There are a lot of similarities between these two teams. They’ve both been rocked on the road early in the morning by a scarlet and white school. They’ve both beaten Southern Utah. And they’ve both lost close games against blue teams.
So the three keys this week are even more important than normal for Arizona if they are to find the holy grail of a 1-0 Pac-12 record.
1. What Goes Around....Comes Around
The biggest thing that I think could take down Arizona is a simple one, and that is time of possession. We saw how that killed the Wildcats in the first half of the Southern Utah game, and we’ve seen it for years on end now. Arizona is currently ranked 109th in the nation in TOP, which is 10th in the Pac-12.
So the combination of two slight changes will really help the Wildcats in this one. The first is the offense running the ball and keeping the clock moving. The thing about going for the big, chunk plays on a regular basis kills your time of possession in two ways. The first, you have less plays to score, which is fine if you do actually score. The second is the amount of incompletions that stop the clock. Less incompletions, more time of possession.
The other change will have to be Arizona’s third down defense. Opponents are converting 44.2% of their third down opportunities against the Wildcats, which also ranks 109th in the nation and is 2nd-worst in the conference. Who’s the worst? That’s right...Oregon State!
I could see this game coming down to something as simple as who gets the most third-down conversions.
The one thing Oregon State does well is get passing yards. Their 314.7 yards per game ranks 22nd in the country which seems problematic for an Arizona team that is struggling with injuries and lack of depth at corner.
It’s unclear if Jace Whittaker will be back after (re?)injuring his arm on the opening drive of the Southern Utah game, which could mean that a guy like Tim Hough could be getting significant snaps again. This is a problem because Hough has not been very good this year, and really you could argue he hasn’t been very good since his freshman year at UNLV. He’ll need to get significantly better at mirroring his guy if Arizona stands a chance in this one.
UA’s safeties will need to step up their game as well. I’d expect Oregon State to run some play action and go for the big plays over the top. Guys like Jarrius Wallace and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles could be huge reasons why this defense either has success or a lot of failure in this one.
3. Follow My Lead
Arizona’s offensive line looked much improved with Layth Friekh back in the lineup in week three. Of course there’s the question if that was purely because they were playing an FCS team.
So this will be the reshuffled line’s first chance to shine against a more respectable opponent. OSU only has three sacks this year (Arizona has two), so I would expect Khalil Tate to have some clean pockets and chances to actually go through his reads before slinging the ball out.
I’m also curious to see what the run blocking looks like. If this line can pave some roads for Arizona’s running backs, this game could get ugly quick. If the backs get stuck in the trenches? Well, this game could get ugly quick in the opposite direction.