Thanks to one of the nation's most prolific offenses, first-year coach Rich Rodriguez has Arizona in position to match its 2011 win total in his fourth game at the helm.
To do so, the Wildcats will have to beat an Oregon team quite familiar with moving the ball effectively.
Rodriguez takes the 22nd-ranked Wildcats into Eugene to face the No. 3 Ducks on Saturday night in a Pac-12 matchup between two of the highest-scoring teams in the country.
Arizona hired Rodriguez in November, just before finishing a 4-8 season under Mike Stoops and Tim Kish. Rodriguez, who was 60-26 at West Virginia from 2001-07 but 15-22 at Michigan from 2008-10, has already made an impact in Tucson. The Wildcats (3-0) rank fourth in the FBS with 604.7 scrimmage yards per game and 12th with 46.3 points per game.
The Ducks, though, are no strangers to getting up and down the field. Using a no-huddle offense similar to the one Rodriguez has developed at his previous stops, Oregon has ranked in the top 10 in scoring each of the last four seasons and in the top 5 in total offense each of the last two. This year's Ducks (3-0) are fifth in the FBS in scoring (54.0 ppg) and seventh in total offense (596.3 ypg).
"They've got a lot of fast guys playing fast," Rodriguez said of the Ducks. "I think we're very similar philosophically. You see some of the same plays and looks, like some of the same concepts on certain things offensively. We're very similar in the way we like to push the game."
Arizona didn't have to push very hard last Saturday, outgaining overmatched FCS foe South Carolina State 689-154 in a 56-0 rout.
"We executed really well tonight," said running back Daniel Jenkins, one of eight Arizona players to run for or catch a touchdown. "There's room for improvement, but we're headed in the right direction."
Rodriguez rested some of his starters late in that game in anticipation of the conference opener.
"Will the intensity be cranked up a little bit next week? I would think so," he said.
While Arizona has already handled some stiff competition in beating then-No. 18 Oklahoma State 59-38 on Sept. 8, the Wildcats will be the Ducks' first real test. Oregon hasn't faced a ranked opponent, overpowering Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech in non-conference play.
De'Anthony Thomas totaled 222 all-purpose yards on only 10 touches, scoring two touchdowns as the Ducks rolled to a 63-14 win over Tennessee Tech last Saturday.
Despite the lopsided result, coach Chip Kelly saw plenty of room for improvement. His team committed 12 penalties for 105 yards, fumbled the ball three times (losing one), and threw two interceptions.
"When we turn the ball over – we're not supposed to do that. When we have penalties – we're not supposed to do that," Kelly said. "Luckily today it didn't come back and rear its ugly head."
Kelly called the Ducks "a work in progress."
Still, offensive lineman Jake Fisher says the Ducks are ready for Pac-12 competition.
"Absolutely. Of course," he said. "We were prepared in fall camp."
Oregon has won 15 of its last 18 games against Arizona, including eight of nine at home. The then-No. 10 Ducks beat the Wildcats 56-31 in Tucson last season, getting a school-record 288 rushing yards from LaMichael James, now with the San Francisco 49ers.
This year, however, the Wildcats might have the offense to keep up. Matt Scott completed 30 of 36 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns last week. The senior has seven touchdowns and one interception on the season after totaling six touchdowns and five interceptions in his first three years.
Scott's favorite target has been Austin Hill, who's second in the conference and eighth in the FBS with 319 receiving yards.
Oregon has plenty of weapons of its own, with Heisman Trophy candidate Thomas leading the pack. Thomas has rushed 13 times for 228 yards and four touchdowns.
Oregon is 44-9 over the last four full seasons, but opened 4-0 just once in that stretch – during the 2010 season when it was 12-0 before falling to Auburn in the national championship game.
- Rich Rodriguez