As he awaits the kick-off of tonight’s game, Rich Rodriguez just might be the most relaxed head coach in college football – despite the fact that his Arizona Wildcats will be taking on the No. 3 team in the nation.
Think about it. The first-year head coach really has little to lose, but lots to gain with an upset win.
Unless, of course, the Cats get blown out big time. Which is always a possibility when you play the Ducks.
(*Update: More than a possibility, it turns out. Oregon blew out Arizona, 49-0, after the Wildcats’ much-heralded offense was unable to come up with a score after six trips to the red zone.)
But RichRod has put a team on the field that should be able to at least hold its own against Oregon. (Wrong. See above) They proved that when they beat Oklahoma State last week when the Cowboys were ranked No. 18.
When the season began, the Cats stumbled coming out of the blocks, needing an overtime to beat Toledo, but have run up 115 points in beating their last two opponents, including the 59-38 win over Oklahoma State.
The bottom line is they’re 3-0, ranked No. 22 in the country, and beat a ranked team (Okla State) that his predecessor, Mike Stoops, couldn’t . Wildcat Nation is beginning to believe in Rodriguez and his new systems.
Life is good for the ol’ ball coach who got fired from his last job after three straight losing seasons as Michigan’s head coach. His career has found new life.
So a loss against Oregon, in a well-played game that keeps the score manageable, isn’t likely to upset the apple cart at this point. After all, is there anybody out there that is expecting the Cats to go into Eugene and upset the defending Pac-12 champions in just the fourth game under a new coach? (A historical note here: No Arizona team has gone into Autzen Stadium and beaten a ranked Oregon team.)
However, it should be entertaining for the fans, a wild, high-scoring game as the two Pac-12 teams depend on their hurry-up, spread offenses to put the most points on the board.
Oregon runs an average of 86 plays a game. Arizona tops even that, with 93 snaps a game, second most in the country – and ran 102 last week against South Carolina State.
Oregon has piled up 162 points in its first three games. Arizona has scored 139. Oregon has accumulated 23 touchdowns. Arizona has 18.
But, while Oregon is the critic’s choice in this one, Arizona brings some impressive credentials to the table. The Cats lead the nation in first downs (108) and are ranked fourth nationally in total offense (604 yds/game).
The Cats will be depending on their fifth-year-senior quarterback, Matt Scott, who is the leading passer in the Pac-12, already stacking up 995 yards – and has added almost 200 yards rushing to his stats. He is completing a red-hot 71.5 percent of his passes.
The Ducks will counter with sophomore running back De’Anthony Thomas, who is averaging 15.4 yards a carry and has accounted for seven TDs so far. He has also already broken through the 200+ plateau when he ran for 222 yards last week against Tennessee Tech.
On paper, they looked pretty evenly matched, but Rodriguez has to make sure it isn’t over before it really gets started. The Cats need to keep Oregon from stretching out an early lead, making it almost impossible to catch up to an explosive team operating in a raucous, hostile environment.
Most football analysts are evidently expecting that to happen. The last time we checked, the Ducks were a 23 1/2-point favorite to win this one.
And that also works in Rodriguez’s favor, getting to play the huge underdog role. If he wins, it’s a stunning upset on national television that will become a part of Wildcat lore. If he loses, but plays well, the fans will accept it and move on to the next game.
The third-ranked Ducks on the road? No sweat.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)