Oregon vs. Arizona: Matchups to watch

Ducks linebacker Michael Clay (46) attempts to tackle Wildcats sophomore running back Ka'Deem Carey (25) on Sept. 22, 2012. (Emerald archives)

Ducks linebacker Michael Clay (46) attempts to tackle Wildcats sophomore running back Ka'Deem Carey (25) on Sept. 22, 2012. (Emerald archives)

Posted by Justin Wise on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 9:00 am.

The fifth-ranked Ducks travel to Tucson, Ariz. this weekend with a list of question marks surrounding their rushing attack and the health of Marcus Mariota. It goes without saying that the two seem to be interconnected problems as Mariota’s health is the key to unlocking a successful running game. However, on Saturday, with Mariota 100 percent or not, it will be a test to see if the Ducks can storm out of the gates early and establish control of the game, something they have not been successful at in the first half of their last two games.

On the other side of the ball, Oregon’s defense will be facing one of the most prolific ball carriers in the country in Ka’Deem Carey. Carey’s average of 150.3 rushing yards per game is second in the nation and his combination of brute strength and elusiveness presents a test for Oregon’s front seven.  

Oregon rushing attack vs. Arizona defense:

Oregon’s rushing attack has been relatively absent in its last two contests. Posting totals of 62 yards against Stanford and 145 against Utah, the Ducks’ ground game has been sorely affected by Mariota’s inability to be mobile. Without a solid ground game, Oregon’s offense has lost that routine that this up-tempo system desperately needs. If Byron Marshall and De’Anthony Thomas can get in between the tackles and manage to average upwards of four yards a carry, the offense can utilize even more options as far as the passing game goes. Oregon’s rushing attack can essentially be the reason why this game is over before the first half because it will create a fast-paced tempo that Oregon thrives on.

Oregon key: Establishing the running game early. It is as simple as that. If the running backs can find holes and burst through them, Oregon’s offense can work at the level it is best known for.

Arizona key: Watching film of the Utah and Stanford games and containing the run in a similar fashion. With Mariota obviously banged up, Arizona’s defense is virtually facing a pocket passer and if they can create problems in the trenches like both Utah and Stanford did, they can force Mariota into a lot of 3rd down situations. Mariota has proven capable as a one-dimensional quarterback, but forcing Mariota to pass more often bodes well for the Wildcats.

Advantage: Oregon

Ka’Deem Carey vs. Oregon defensive front:

Ka’Deem Carey’s numbers speak for themselves. Without him, Arizona’s offense would not pose a threat to the Oregon defense. Nick Allioti noted earlier this week that he felt if they could contain the run, the defense would set itself up for success throughout the game. Arizona’s passing offense only averages 188.8 yards per game, which shows why this offense relies heavily on Carey’s performance.

Oregon key: Stopping Carey early and establishing control of how the offense works is the key for Oregon. If they can force Arizona into positions where they must pass often, this defense should be able to manage the game without much difficulty.

Arizona key: If Arizona can establish a run game with Carey, it virtually means that they can control the time of possession. If they can do that, Arizona can manage a game similar to the way Utah established early on last Saturday. Managing the clock should be a prevalent issue for Arizona and the way it can do that is by sustaining long drives via Carey and establishing dominance up front.

Advantage: Arizona

Follow Justin Wise on Twitter @JWISE25