No. 9 Wildcats will play Oregon State before sell-out crowd

The Wildcats have found a better way to keep moving up in the national rankings.  Just don’t play.

The University of Arizona moved up from No. 14 in the polls to No. 9 (AP poll) during their bye week and now prepare to take on Oregon State, which beat that other Pac-10 team in Tempe last week while the Cats were taking a breather.

And unlike Arizona State, which had to travel to Corvallis to take on the Beavers, the Wildcats will be playing in the friendly confines of their own stadium – their fourth consecutive home game.

Like any team, the Cats enjoy playing at home – and their record shows how they are able to take advantage of playing in front of their fans.  They have won 15 of the last 18 games played in Tucson.

And there will be lots of fans this weekend.  The school just announced that the game will be a sell-out, the second advance sell-out of the season.  The other was Sept. 18 when No. 9 Iowa visited and drew 57,864 fans.

But the Beavers don’t seem to be bothered by playing at Arizona Stadium.  In doesn’t seem to make much difference where they play the Cats, since they have won nine of the last 11 encounters.

In fact, UofA head coach Mike Stoops might actually prefer to be playing the Beavers on their turf since the two times he has beaten them were in Corvallis.

The Beavers are coming off the win against the Sun Devils, enjoying one of their best offensive performances of the season as they ran up 416 total yards behind their prolific running back, Jacquizz Rodgers, who penetrated the ASU defense for 145 yards and two touchdowns.  (See game story on Sunday’s PhxFan post).

At the same time, the Arizona offense sputtered against California, its last game before the bye week.  The Cats had to settle for a field goal in the anemic 10-9 victory until Juron Criner pulled in a Nick Foles pass for the winning score with little more than a minute left on the clock.

A 51-yard pass play from Foles to Criner late in the game was one of very few big plays on the evening, as the Cats finished the night with just 99 yards on the ground.    But that was pretty much offset by the 99 yards they picked up in penalties.

Foles, who is completing 74.5 percent of his passes and has already thrown for over 1,000 yards, finished the Cal game with just 212 yards and an interception.  But he’s got to do better than his 64 percent completion mark against the Golden Bears.

The junior transfer from Michigan State has lots of options in his passing attack, with Criner and David Douglas leading the pack.  Criner tops the yardage list, with 352 yards so far on 19 catches, and Douglas leads the team in receptions with 22.

And the Cats will need to air it out since they are averaging just 120 yards per game on the ground.

But defense is where the Cats hold an edge.  The Beavers are allowing almost 200 rushing yards per game and they’re giving up rushing touchdowns at a rate of two per game.  The Cats have allowed zero touchdowns in three of their four games.

Arizona, which ranks fourth in the nation in defending against the pass, has held opponents to just 129 yards passing and 101 yards rushing per game.

Tomorrow’s game will feature a top-10 team against one of the best 2-2 teams in the nation, since Oregon State’s two losses have come against No. 4 Boise State and No. 5 Texas Christian.

If the Cats do take down the Beavers and open Pac-10 play 2-0, it will be just the 10th time since Arizona joined the conference back in 1978.

And during that span, the Cats went on to win seven or more games in all but one season.

That makes tomorrow’s game a pivot point for the rest of the season.

If you put any stock in history.