STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL/GAME BREAKDOWN
Scouting the run offense: Last week against No. 14 Washington State, the Ducks turned in a season-worst rushing performance. Being dominated physically and mentally in the trenches, Oregon’s offensive line was abysmal in opening up holes for the running backs as the Ducks finished with 58 rushing yards in the game.
Running back CJ Verdell saw his streak of 100+ rushing yards come to an end at three when he finished last week with 55 yards on just 12 carries. Because the Ducks trailed 27-0 at the half, Oregon was forced to throw the ball a lot more to catch up, therefore settling with just 24 rushing attempts in the game.
The Ducks will look to get back on track against an Arizona defense that surrenders 195.9 rushing yards per game, second-worst in the Pac-12. The Wildcats do a great job of getting into the opponent’s backfield, amassing 53 tackles for loss on the season. But, to many missed tackles and the inability to set the edge has repeatedly cost Arizona during games.
Linebacker Colin Schooler is a one-man wrecking crew, leading the Pac-12 in tackles for loss with 14.5 on the season. An extremely instinctual player, Schooler possess the capabilities to contain Oregon's run game by either making the tackle himself or facing double teams, freeing up his teammates for the play.
Verdell, who averages a team-high 83.7 rushing yards per game, isn’t the only threat Arizona must watch for. Senior Tony Brooks-James is finally healthy and according to head coach Mario Cristobal, will get the ball on Saturday. Brooks-James, who shows the ability to break big runs with his speed and agility, is actually at his best when he’s patient at the line of scrimmage before lowering his head and running hard.
Also, quarterback Justin Herbert is a threat to run. He had an eight-yard rushing touchdown against the Cougars last week, and on the season has rushed for 115 yards and two scores. He has proven to keep the ball on option plays and pick up big gains or keep plays alive with his legs outside the pocket.
Oregon will attempt to be physical at the line of scrimmage and get Verdell and co. running early. This will take the pressure of Herbert and the passing game, eventually setting up the dangerous play-action game, making the offense unstoppable.
Scouting the pass offense: Herbert, who’s widely considered the top quarterback prospect in the 2019 draft class, has struggled the past two weeks. Against Washington and Washington State, Herbert has thrown for 472 yards on 43-of-76 (56.6-percent) and three scores. While the stats don’t appear terrible, Herbert has missed open receivers and thrown wildly at times, stunting offensive drives.
Blessed with the ability to make any throw possible, Herbert will be looking to turn around his fortunes going up against the Wildcats, who surrender 244.8 passing yards per game. Cornerback Lorenzo Burns leads Arizona with eight pass breakups while Scottie Young Jr. has two interceptions.
Arizona is an athletic group at the backend of their pass defense, yet they lack a true shutdown cover corner. That could be problematic with Oregon’s Dillon Mitchell coming to town.
Despite an off-game last week, Mitchell leads the conference in all major receiving categories in Pac-12 games. His 36 catches for 510 yards and 127.5 yards per game are all conference-highs.
He shows the ability to win in multiple ways. Whether it be out-jumping a defensive back, precise route running to get open or yards after catch, Mitchell is as dangerous as they come in the conference.
But Herbert uses more than just Mitchell in the passing game. Jaylon Redd and Johnny Johnson have nine combined touchdowns on 27 total catches while tight ends Jacob Breeland and Kano Dillon have two touchdowns apiece.
With a multitude of weapons at his disposal, Herbert will get back to spreading the ball around, making it impossible for Arizona to target one receiver. If he can get good protection, Herbert will pick apart the Wildcats defense and get back to his dominating ways.