Three keys: Arizona-Oregon

November, 26, 2010
11/26/10
9:00
AM ET
Three keys for Friday's high-stakes matchup at Autzen Stadium.

The counterpunch: Any bets Oregon coach Chip Kelly and his guys are weary of hearing about how California provided a road map for stopping the Ducks' offense? The Bears' man-free scheme -- man-to-man coverage in the secondary with a safety spying the quarterback -- has been tried before against the Ducks and isn't exactly rocket science. But it held the Ducks to just one offensive touchdown, so many are acting like it was a "eureka!" moment. After a bye week, expect Oregon to come out with some offensive wrinkles early against Arizona. And it will be up to the Wildcats to react to those wrinkles and not panic if they give up some big plays. It's when a defense tries to do too much that it gets in trouble with Oregon.

The QBs: Arizona won't beat the Ducks by running the football, though a decent running threat certainly wouldn't hurt. It's going to need Nick Foles to be his sharp and accurate self. Most particularly, it's going to need Foles & Co. to be efficient in the red zone. The Wildcats have six red zone turnovers this year and just 26 touchdowns in 45 opportunities (eighth in the Pac-10). They must take advantage of scoring opportunities and not settle for field goals. As for Oregon QB Darron Thomas, he may not have running back LaMichael James (ankle) at full speed, and backup Kenjon Barner is still regaining his form after suffering a scary concussion at Washington State on Oct. 9. Thomas' arm -- and feet -- may need to play a big role. He's been up to the task thus far, far surpassing preseason expectations. But the stakes couldn't be much higher at present.

Weirdness: Who saw USC's upset losses at Oregon State in 2008 or at UCLA in 2006 coming? Those two defeats knocked the Trojans out of the national title game. In 2007, LSU was seventh in the BCS standings on Nov. 25, but, after shocking late-season chaos, the Tigers wiggled into the national title game and became the only two-loss BCS champion. In other words, crazy bounces happen late in the season when you don't see them coming. A pick-six here. A special-teams breakdown there. A sudden case of the dropsies or fumblitis. A tour de force performance from an adversary. All of these -- and more -- can derail a national title dream. Oregon has been smart and poised all season. If some weirdness shows up, it might be their most serious adversary yet.

Ted Miller | email

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