New-look Arizona a Challenge

Rich Rodriguez's spread-offense will pose problems

The Arizona Wildcats that sprint into Autzen Stadium Saturday night may don familiar uniforms and feature recognizable players, but that might be where the similarities stop.

EUGENE-Ore.,- A disappointing 2011 campaign ended the Mike Stoops era at Arizona, who has since been replaced by Rich Rodriguez, spread-offense wunderkind.

Rodriguez's effectiveness is hard to question. Through three games, a team replacing an NFL quarterback, it's leading rusher and top three receivers from a year ago has put up gaudy numbers unlike anything the program has seen.

With fifth-year senior, but first-year starter Matt Scott at quarterback the Wildcats are third in the nation in total offense and twelfth in scoring offense. Scott, a duel-threat weapon, has also shined, ranking fourth nationally in total offense.

"A lot of people are one-dimensional: ‘He's a really good runner, but he doesn't throw the ball very well. He's a heck of a passer, but can't beat you with his feet.' But Matt can do both. I think he's one of the top quarterbacks in the country," Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said at his Tuesday press conference.

Kelly admits that even when Nick Foles, the Philadelphia Eagles third-round draft pick and current back-up quarterback, was with the Wildcats, Scott's ability was recognizable.

"I think Matt's an outstanding talent. Even when he played when Nick [Foles] was banged up, you saw what a talented quarterback he is. It's because he can beat you both ways," he said.

But, Scott hasn't had to do it alone. He's had the benefit of handing off to the conference's second-leading rusher sophomore Ka'Deem Carey. Carey, who also returns kicks, has shown great open-field explosiveness and lower-body drive, this season.

Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti hopes that perceived similarities between the two spread-offenses will help his team's preparation, notably the tempo and spread elements.

"It's got to help us some. We've played it all spring, we've played it all fall, and the first three teams we've played have been a type of that offense," he said.

Kelly was reluctant to compare the two offenses however, saying that the Wildcats depend on a lot more 3 to 4 wide receiver sets than Oregon and also utilize their tight ends/H-Backs in different respects.

The reason for utilizing so many wide outs is obvious. The Wildcats are extremely talented out wide. Despite a unit that features four first or second year players on its two-deep, the Wildcats possess great length and athleticism, with four of the six standing at 6-4, while the other two are at 6-2 and 6-3 respectfully.

"They're tall long angular guys, they present great targets because of their range." Kelly said.

The overall size and jumping ability may pose problems for an Oregon secondary that lacks great height. What that will mean, is the Ducks will have play the ball perfectly.

"We just have to be ready to make plays at the end of the route when the ball is at its highest point," sophomore corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu said.

If the transition to a spread offense seemed a major change for the Wildcats, one can only guess the reaction the change to a 3-3-5 stack defense may have leant. Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich say the change from a traditional 4-3 defense to Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 renders all previous game tape useless.

"Totally different, totally different, totally different. From a schematic standpoint, couldn't be more different," Helfrich explained.

The 3-3-5 provides the defense with one more defensive back, thus allowing more speed and coverage ability. And for Arizona you might as well make that six defensive backs, as safety turned linebacker Marquise Flowers has made the transition to Sam LB, a move that Helfrich says has allowed him to "really flourish".

Helfrich says they'll rely on confusion, and will give quarterback Marcus Mariota looks he has yet to see as a college quarterback.

"It'll be a test for him [Mariota], for our front guys, in terms of recognition and being on the same page," he said.

Mariota has faced similar defenses in high school, but doesn't know how well that will prepare him for what he sees on Saturday, when Pac-12 level athletes pick up roles previously employed by high school level ones.

The game plan according to Mariota will be to "take advantage of the mismatches". The challenge will be finding them.

The game will be televised on ESPN at 7:30, with Joe Tessitore and Matt Millen in the booth and Shelley Smith on the sidelines.

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