This is not just a Championship game; this is a rematch, which means it will be a war in Santa Clara at Levi Stadium on Saturday between PAC-12 South Champion Arizona and North Champion Oregon.
Back on October 2nd Arizona pulled off one of the biggest upset of the early college football season. For the first time this season Marcus Mariota appeared to be human. The Oregon offensive line was depleted. They couldn’t protect Mariota and the running game was ineffective. The Wildcats defense sacked Mariota 5 times and forced two fumbles and gave up only 144 yards on the ground. When it was time for a big-time player to make a play; it was Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright who provided the big play; sacking Mariota—forcing and recovering a fumble that all but sealed up the victory for the Wildcats.
It wasn’t that much of a surprise for those who live in Arizona. The Wildcats have had the Ducks number the last two meetings. Last season the Duck defense was ran all over by Wildcats in Tucson. Arizona had more than 300 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns.
Since the lost to Arizona, Oregon has been on a mission to ensure the nation that they are not down and out. Oregon has score more than 40 points in each of their remaining games and the offense has gained more than 500 yards in 6 out of the last 7 averaging 543.9 yards. In those seven games Marcus Mariota has been the model of consistency; passing for over 2000 yards with 21 touchdowns along with 8 rushing touchdowns.
Mariota hasn’t been the only efficient quarterback. Arizona freshman Anu Solomon ranks 5th; right behind Mariota in passing yards per game in the PAC-12. Solomon has thrown for 3424 yards with 27 touchdowns.
There have been some freshman standouts throughout all of the PAC-12 this season, but there are two that really help elevate their teams to championship status. Arizona freshman running back Nick Wilson helped take some of the pressure off his freshman quarterback Anu Solomon with his breakaway speed; allowing Head Coach Rich Rodriguez offense to run smoothly this season. Wilson is ranked 4th in the conference in rushing with 1,263 yards with 15 touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. His counterpart Oregon freshman running back Royce Freeman is ranked 5th in the conference with 1,185 yards with 16 touchdowns and was named the PAC-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year.
Tuesday, the conference awards were announced. 4 of the 5 awards were given to Arizona and Oregon representatives. Rich Rodriguez was named Coach of the Year and linebacker Scooby Wright was named Defensive Player of the Year (both of Arizona). Marcus Mariota was named the Offensive Player of the Year and of course Freeman Offensive Freshman (both of Oregon). Any guess of who is playing for the conference championship this Friday?
Rich Rodriguez’s offense is simple but complicated at the same time. It’s simple for his players to follow and complicated for defense to dissect. The zone-read pass-run option gave Oregon fits in their first meeting this year. Arizona’s defense kept Mariota corralled and unsure at times, which forced some turnovers.
In an interview this week, Mariota said, “We’re just going to play our game. Arizona did a great job setting and dictating tempo in the last meeting. If we go out and execute to the best of our abilities and execute the game plans that are put in front of us, we should hopefully be successful.”
In order to be successful, Oregon will have to jump the gun and establish tempo first. They will have to force Arizona to play their game, and the Oregon defese will have to tackle better, especially in the run game. Arizona running back Terris Jones-Grigsby had 115 yards rushing; 4.3 yards per carry.