Arizona Wildcats (4-0 SU, 1-3 ATS) vs. Oregon Ducks (4-0 SU, 1-3 ATS)
College Football Week 6
Date and Time: Thursday Night Football, October 2, 2014 at 10:30 PM EST
Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon
by Scotty L, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Az +23/ORE -23
Over/Under Total: Off
On Thursday, the unbeaten Arizona Wildcats take the trip north to Eugene to face the second-ranked Oregon Ducks. Each teams is coming off a nearly-two week break coming into this key Pac-12 game. Oregon is looking to maintain an inside track to the 4-team playoff and a possible national championship. Arizona is merely searching for respectability. A win here would immediately boost their status.
Oregon is looking to atone for the shocking 42-16 loss suffered at the hands of Arizona last season. As 21-point favorites, they lost by 26 points. Granted, that was at home and this one is in Eugene. But its something to think about heading into this game. And Arizonas offense looks to have maybe upgraded a notch. The defense, well, thats another issue.
Both Arizona and Oregon are 4-0, but Oregons record rings loudest. A 21-point win over a very good Michigan State team in week two spoke volumes. They easily beat North Dakota and Wyoming, but in their last game, they struggled against Washington State, winning by a narrower-than-expected 38-31. Still, its better than Arizona beating up on UNLV, before notching narrow wins over UTSA, Nevada, and Cal. In fact, they would have lost to Cal if not for an unlikely 36-point fourth quarter explosion that pulled victory from the jaws on defeat.
A hail-mary from redshirt freshman Anu Solomon to Austin Hill capped off a remarkable comeback, as the Wildcats won, 49-45. On one hand, its the kind of win that can give confidence to a young team. Then again, its troubling to see them giving up 573 yards of offense to Cal, in light of who theyre facing this week. If Cal is running up and down the field against you at home, what chance do you stand against a home Oregon team? Some of this, however, sounds familiar from last seasons analysis and we saw how well that held up, with Arizona scoring the easy win.
Rich Rodriguez seems to be onto something with Arizona. The offense is potentially explosive, with a lot of tools and surprise performances from youngsters. Solomon is at 1454 yards passing after only 4 games. True freshman Nick Wilson is a big boost at running back, when a big step back was anticipated with the exit of KaDeem Carey. Texas transfer Cayleb Jones is a dynamic receiver who adds another dimension to the Wildcats passing game, with 6 touchdowns already. Austin Hill is working his way back from injury and showing glimpses of his 2012 form, when he had 1364 yards receiving.
The problem with the Wildcats isnt so much with their offense. Theyre giving up massively-productive games to opposing quarterbacks like Nevadas Cody Fajardo and Cals Jared Goff. Even Texas-San Antonios QB Tucker Carter looked good against this group. The secondary is perhaps underachieving, but theyre not getting much help up front. The question is how well can they hold up against the likes of Marcus Mariota and Company? This isnt the same unit from last season that kept the Ducks offense in check.
Mariota has 13 touchdowns so far with zero interceptions. He has also run for 3 touchdowns. He is deadly efficient, while also possessing a dramatic flair for the dramatic. Hes added more maturity and responsibility to his game and is really hitting his stride as one of the best players in college football. The run-game is again robust with Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall, but as usual, Oregon is getting some new blood in the mix, with freshman RB Royce Freeman. The former Imperial High standout already has 5 touchdowns on the ground. Another major contributor is redshirt freshman receiver Devon Allen, who has 5 touchdown receptions. Some of the best young offensive talent on the west coast ends up in Eugene to showcase their wares in a high-octane package that allow guys to shine. This year is again showing Oregons regenerative powers and immediate ability to reload.
Oregons offensive line drew some negative attention to themselves against Washington State, allowing a slew of sacks and making their opponents line look a lot better than it is. Their left tackle is being occupied by their third choice to begin the season and if Arizona is able to apply some pressure and step up inside a bit, they could do what Washington State did–limit the Ducks running game, while keeping Mariota in relative check. Kind of like last year.
This may be a good spot for Oregon to exert some authority. Theyve seemed a tick off their peak form. Facing a 4-0 Arizona team that is not as good as that record sounds, with a defense that looks readily exploitable, this could be the week for some message-sending. The revenge-factor suggests a more-focused Oregon squad, as well. With Florida State looking to be at a reduced form compared to last season, the Ducks can maybe start building a case for the top spot.
Anu Solomon has been dazzling thus far. But now it gets real. Home wins against Nevada and Cal are nice, but going into Eugene to face a top team in a hostile environment with the Thursday showcase element thrown in, its a little different. Well see how well Solomon and their other inexperienced backs and receivers fare in a spot like this. Not to mention an undoubtedly suspect defense that will be put to the test unlike anything that youre likely to see in college football.
With Oregons offensive line in a bit of peril, Arizona can maybe apply enough pressure to keep Mariota from breaking into full-stride. For Arizona to not cover this spread, they would need to be 49 points worse than they were last year. Theyll be worse, but not by that much. I like Arizona to cover the spread.
Scotty L’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im taking the Arizona Wildcats plus 23 points.