It’s not October yet, but UA football already in crunch time

Tomorrow’s game against Oregon is just the fourth game on the 2011 football schedule for the University of Arizona, but it could be the tipping point of the season.

The Wildcats are 1-2, with the cupcake opener against Northern Arizona their only win.  Since then, they’ve taken on consecutive ranked teams, losing to Oklahoma State and Stanford, ranked No. 9 and No.6 respectively at the time.

And after No. 10 Oregon, they get their fourth straight ranked opponent in No. 23 USC.  The Trojans will likely keep a perch in the Top 25, unless they lose to Arizona Sate tomorrow.

A win against the Ducks would lift Arizona’s confidence level and give them a much-needed boost going into the USC game.  A loss would make it all the more difficult mentally to get up for a critical game on the road.

If the Cats can’t find a rushing offense, which has been virtually non-existent of late, they can easily find themselves dealing with a 1-5 start to the season.  They’ve averaging less than 60 rushing yards a game so far, including 51 last week against Stanford.

To offset their anemic ground game, Arizona has one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Nick Foles, who is the Pac-12 leader in total offense.  He threw for 239 yards against Stanford and also set a school record in that game, completing his 143rd consecutive pass without an interception.

If the Cats do drop the next two games, it would mean they would just about have to run the table the rest of the way to get the six wins they need to be bowl-eligible.

And that daunting task would likely include beating rival Arizona State, which is playing like a team on a mission so far, despite a three-point loss to Illinois last week.

Once past USC, it will get easier and Arizona should be able to pick up a handful of wins.

However, there is also a downside to that.  ASU may have climbed back into the Top 25 by the time the annual Duel in the Desert rolls around in mid-November, but it’s unlikely that the others on the schedule will be ranked – which means the Cats won’t have a major upset to stage and would have little chance to finish the season ranked among the top-tier teams.

It’s just a matter of time before Arizona puts together a game that features both passing and running.  Maybe, just maybe, it will be against Oregon.  Games between the two are usually fast-paced and high-scoring.

The Wildcats are scoring points at an unimpressive 22-per-game clip, but the Ducks are putting up an average of 51 points per game, the best in the Pac-12.

One thing Arizona does have going for it is an ability to hold onto the ball.  The Ducks should plan on making their own breaks, and not expect any from the Wildcats.  Arizona has lost just one turnover so far this season, a fumble against Oklahoma State, which puts it among just eight teams in the nation that can lay claim to that statistic.

So, they can hold on to the ball.  They just don’t move it very well.

Maybe it’s time to consider bringing the freshman from Canyon del Oro High School into the game a little earlier tomorrow.  Coach Mike Stoops has sent his prized recruit, Ka’Deem Carey onto the field late in the second half in the previous games, and he has shown well.

The 5’8″ Carey, a 4-star prospect, was the 2010 Southern Arizona Player of the Year at Canyon del Oro in Tucson and has started his college career backing up the senior running back from Las Vegas, Keola Antolin.

But what does Stoops have to lose?  This game, let’s try putting the kid in before the hole gets too deep.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)