As the No. 10 Oregon football team prepares to face Nick Foles and the Arizona Wildcats’ passing attack, one thing is still looming in many Ducks’ minds.
It’s been two years since Oregon’s thrilling double overtime victory in Tucson, but none of the team’s upperclassmen have forgotten about the night the “ZonaZoo” made its way onto the field with four minutes remaining in regulation.
The sign of disrespect was taken, and the Ducks rallied their way to a 44-41 victory at Arizona Stadium. Though many of Oregon’s playmakers from that 2009 team have since graduated, those who remain know what to expect in the desert.
“I think it has a lot to do with the fans,” senior rover Eddie Pleasant said. “That’s one stadium where I can say it kind of compares to Autzen. They’ve got some fans that’s really into the game. It’s a good college atmosphere to play in, and they’re gonna be ready to go.”
Despite a remarkable start to the season for Foles, the Wildcats have sputtered to a 1-2 record so far in 2011. With back-to-back losses at the hands of top-10 opponents Oklahoma State and Stanford, Arizona is more than hungry for its first Pac-12 victory.
For his part, Foles, a two-time honorable mention Pac-10 selection, has completed more 75 percent of his passes for 1,049 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions. Those numbers are expected to increase on Saturday against an Oregon team that’s struggled to contain Foles defensively.
During his sophomore season, Foles threw for 314 yards against the Ducks on 30-of-46 passing with four touchdowns and one interception. Then last year, in a 48-29 loss at Autzen Stadium, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound signal-caller completed 29 of his 54 pass attempts for a career-best 448 yards and another three scores.
“He knows what coverage’s you’re playing, so we’ve got to disguise some,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. “That’s going to be really important.”
The former Michigan State Spartan presents the biggest challenge to Oregon’s secondary through the first month of the season because the Ducks have faced a run-heavy LSU team in week one and two lesser opponents in Nevada and Missouri State.
Oregon has allowed just 435 yards through the air in those three games combined (145 per game), and only twice have the Ducks allowed touchdown passes. On the ground, however, Oregon has struggled somewhat to contain potent running attacks, and Aliotti anticipates an increased dosage of Arizona senior running back Keola Antolin come Saturday.
“I think you always have to run the ball a little bit to keep everybody honest,” Aliotti said. “I don’t know what their mind-set is, but I would think that they’ll try to run the ball a little bit more, being as some people have had a little bit more success running against us than we would like.”
Antolin, a 5-8, 195-pound Las Vegas native, has shouldered most of the carries this season following the graduation of Nic Grigsby.
On the outside, the Wildcats welcomed back All-American wide receiver Juron Criner last weekend against Stanford after the senior underwent an appendectomy that kept him sidelined in week two. Criner has caused Oregon plenty of problems over the past two years, catching five passes for 93 yards and three touchdowns in 2009 and another three receptions for 109 yards and two scores last season.
But as anyone in the Oregon secondary will tell you, Arizona revolves around the play of Foles.
“We’ve got to work a lot more on our man-on-man coverage,” Pleasant said. “He gets the ball out quick. We’ve got a game plan to stop his passing attack, but he’s a great football player. He’s doing some great things in his career there.”