2017 DuckNews Preview – Arizona

Oregon’s chances of winning in the past few weeks seem to have been revolved around one big question. Will Justin Herbert play?

So far the answer has been no, but with a bye week in the rearview mirror and just two games remaining, that answer might finally shift to a yes as the Ducks prepare to face a surprisingly good Arizona team.

Rich Rodriguez’s Wildcats were picked to finish dead last in the Pac-12 South by the media types in the pre-season. Showing just how much the media can get some things wrong, Arizona has gone on to a nice 7-3 record and is 5-2 in conference play.

It was thought this might be Rodriguez’s last year in the desert, but having a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback changed the immediate and distant future of the Arizona program.

Khalil Tate is the ultimate dual-threat quarterback and after starting the year on the sidelines as the the back-up the sophomore was given the keys to Rich Rods offense as the starter and literally has run with that opportunity and has run away from opposing defenses.

Tate leads Arizona with 1,293 rushing yards (162 ypg), which is only behind Stanford’s Bryce Love’s 1,622 (180 ypg). A reminder that Tate is the quarterback, not the tailback. He also is completing 62 percent of his passes (65-of-105) and has thrown for eight touchdowns to go along with his 11 scores on the ground.

Willie Taggart said some divine intervention might be needed to stop Tate on Saturday.

“Pray,” he said on how to contain the Arizona signal caller. “No one has stopped him yet. Defensively, you have to be disciplined. We have to make sure guys do a good job wrapping up and get to the ball.”

Another important aspect, according to Taggart, is something the Ducks used to take advantage of when Chip Kelly was in Eugene, and it’s before the play even happens.

“It’s important to get lined up,” he said. “In the big plays they do make, you see defenses aren’t aligned right. I don’t’ think you can complicate things trying to defend.”

When Tate isn’t running the ball, his favorite target through the air is Shun Brown, who has 32 receptions, five of those going for touchdowns.

On the other side of the ball, Arizona won’t be mistaken for the 1985 Chicago Bears any time soon. The Wildcats are ninth in the conference in scoring defense (32 ppg) and 10th in total defense (449 ypg). This week would be a perfect time for Herbert to come back and breathe some life back into the Duck passing attack. Arizona is dead last in the Pac-12 in passing defense, allowing 292.5 yards per game through the air.

Should Herbert be given another week to recuperate, Oregon will turn to Braxton Burmeister at quarterback, someone Arizona is familiar with.

“We recruited him (Burmeister) for a long time. He was an outstanding high school player and is getting to play as a true freshman, and playing well,” Rodriguez said. “They may get Justin (Herbert) back, which would be a big boost to them. They were scoring a whole bunch of points and he’s got more experience, but I think Braxton’s played really well for them. For us it’s no surprise, we know he’s an outstanding player, that’s why we recruited him.”

Burmeister had committed to Arizona, but changed his mind just before signing day last February. The true freshman was set to redshirt this season before the Herbert injury derailed those plans, forcing the Ducks to play Burmeister much earlier than expected.

Saturday’s game is set for a 4 pm kickoff at Autzen Stadium televised on the Pac-12 Network. Weather is supposed to be very un-Arizona-like, cloudy and in the mid-40’s.

~ Don Smalley