The Ducks finished their final practice of the week, in preparation for the Arizona Wildcats, today in the Moshofsky Center, as former Oregon quarterback, Marcus Mariota, looked on.
As luck would have it, Mariota was Oregon’s starting quarterback in 2013 when the Ducks last played in Tucson. Unfortunately that year, things didn’t end well for Oregon and I have little doubt Mariota has forgotten.
I know I haven’t.
I have visited the numerous Pac-12 stadiums, both as a fan and as a writer, and there is no sugar-coating it ; Wildcats Stadium is a terrible and hostile environment. If you’ve been following me for a while now (Hi grandma!), you know I barely escaped the stadium in Oregon’s double overtime win in 2009 and only came out unscathed because of an angelic elderly couple sneaking me out a side gate. That was also the year an Oregon cheerleader was injured after being hit in the head by a flying bottle.
Then there was the 2013 Oregon loss. That time I was there to cover the team and exited directly behind a devastated Mariota, who had also been injured during the game. I’ll never forget the vile taunting he endured walking out of the stands as many of his emotional teammates pounded their fists against the tunnel wall. The taunting was so bad, Arizona fans eventually turned on each other. It was a terrible night for Oregon and it’s fans to say the least. In fact, the only question I could muster up was something along the lines of, “Marcus, is your family here to support you tonight?”
Since that November night in Tucson, Oregon has managed to win its last two meetings against the Wildcats, including a 2014 Arizona vs. Oregon Pac-12 Championship game (though neither win played out in Wildcats Stadium).
This weekend, the Ducks will look to make it three wins in a row as both teams look to bounce back after tough losses last weekend.
Arizona ended up losing to a Chip Kelly-led UCLA team that has looked pretty dismal this season, while Oregon lost a tough road game in Pullman.
The good news for Oregon fans is that Vegas expects Oregon to be the team to bounce back. If Oregon does manage to come up on top, it would be their first win in Tucson since 2011. It would also make Cristobal and Co. bowl eligible.
Despite being favored to win by near double-digits, the Ducks will have their hands full in the desert. To win, the ducks will have to show they’ve learned from last weekend’s mistakes in The Palouse.
Offensively, Justin Herbert and his skill guys will have to come out strong. Although the offense was able to bounce back after a 0-27 halftime deficit in Pullman, ultimately it wasn’t enough to take home the win. They simply can’t fall that far behind and will have to find a way to move the chains.
Oregon’s run game is obviously solid but needs help from Oregon’s receivers to open up a balanced attack. So far, receiver Dillon Mitchell has done his part but another go-to guy needs to emerge. Look for Brenden Schooler to be that guy this weekend. Chances are, he’ll be a little more fired up given the fact his brother, Arizona Freshman linebacker, Colin Schooler, will be part of the crew defending him.
Defensively, the Oregon secondary needs to show some improvement. Yes, they are killing it in the interception department but they have also been giving up some huge yardage plays which have been costly. Hopefully this group has a bad, leftover cougar taste in their mouth because Arizona will surely look to exploit this weak link in Oregon’s defense.
Beyond the X’s and O’s
Last but not least, the Ducks will have to be prepared for the climate and the crowd. After practicing in an 85 degree Mo Center this week, they should be ready for the climate. It’s the crowd they may need more preparation for.
I may sound like a broken record but after being rattled in Pullman, this is a legitimate concern. At a glance, it doesn’t appear any current Oregon players have played a collegiate game in Wildcats Stadium.
One player who does “get” what the Zona Zoo is like is Arizona native and Oregon Senior linebacker, Jalen Jelks, who I caught up with this week. It turns out the last time Jelks visited Wildcats Stadium was in 2013 as a recruit.
“Their fans are crazy,” Jelks said. “It’s just like Pullman.”
Just like Pullman.
Sometimes it’s not all about X’s and O’s, especially during #Pac12AfterDark.
Here’s hoping Marcus shared a little something about 2013 today after practice.
Kick off is set for 7:30pm and will be aired on ESPN.
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl