Our guest for this week's Q-and-A with the opponent's beat writer is Andrew Greif, who covers the Oregon Ducks for the Oregonian. He was kind enough to answer five questions about the Ducks ahead of Saturday's game.
1. How much did the return of Jake Fisher help Oregon's offensive line against UCLA?
Greif: "I'd say it was immeasurable but there is, in fact, a metric for it: Zero sacks. After allowing a combined 12 in its two previous games and becoming arguably the biggest reason to doubt Oregon's place in the College Football Playoff discussion, the Ducks' offensive line rebounded tremendously with Fisher in at left tackle. What he gives is an "attitude," his teammates say, as well as tremendous skill and experience as a senior. Having him at left tackle caused a ripple effect for his linemen. In previous weeks they were trying to do too much, and overcompensating for a freshman left tackle in Tyrell Crosby and walk-on right tackle in Matt Pierson. There were still occasional breakdowns, of course, but when Fisher was able to do his job, it meant everyone else was able to focus on their own. The result? Zero sacks and only one penalty on the o-line."
2. What was Arizona able to do to win at Autzen Stadium that so many other teams haven't?
Greif: "They forced turnovers and got timely penalties against Oregon. Oregon came into that game with just one turnover all season, which ranked it tied for No. 1 in the country -- along with Washington. But Marcus Mariota fumbled twice when the pressure got to him so quickly he didn't anticipate it fast enough -- coaches said his "internal clock" hadn't gone off yet, and he didn't tuck the ball. To beat Oregon at Autzen, opponents have to not only stop the Ducks but create their own luck, too, and turnovers were crucial by the Wildcats."
3. Oregon ranks 107th in total defense. How much of that is a byproduct of the Ducks' offensive pace, and how much vulnerability do you think there is on that side of the ball?
Greif: "Some of that is the volume of plays they face. Oregon ranks 124th nationally, second from the bottom, in time of possession. But Oregon also ranks just 85th in yards per play, and that can be pinned on a secondary that has had some growing pains replacing three starters, uneven play at linebacker by returning starter (and leading tackler) Derrick Malone and far too many missed tackles. Washington State earned more than 200 extra yards, and UCLA 186, from missed tackles by the Ducks."
4. How is Marcus Mariota different from a year ago (if at all)?
Greif: "He doesn't run as often, I'd say, but his rushing stats can be misleading. Oregon has been most effective when it's moved him out of the pocket on designed rollouts, which gets him away from pressure, and stretches and fatigues the defense. Rollouts were a key adjustment against Washington State and UCLA. Other than that, he remains the same in that he's hyper-efficient — 17 touchdowns, zero interceptions and the nation's best passing efficiency mark -- and can hurt opponents running, too."
5. Do Oregon players still view this as a heated rivalry? Or have 10 consecutive Ducks victories cooled it?
Greif: "There's no sense that this is a rivalry from Oregon. Even coach Mark Helfrich, an Oregonian who's friends with Chris Petersen and would seem to have every reason to perk up during Washington week, is sticking to Oregon's "faceless opponent" mantra that started under Chip Kelly. When players were asked about the 20th anniversary of Kenny Wheaton's "The Pick" this week, most said they knew it as the play that's run before games on Oregon's jumbotron."