Khalil Tate

How Oregon can beat Arizona to become kings of the North

How Oregon can beat Arizona to become kings of the North

No. 6 Oregon (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12) is on track to the Pac-12 Conference Title game and in the running as a College Football Playoff contender. Coming off a bye, a Duck win this Saturday vs. Arizona (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) would clinch their third North Division title and a spot in the Pac-12 championship.

Numbers to know: In the last 12 games between Oregon and Arizona, the Ducks are 7-0 when scoring more than 40 points per game and 0-5 when scoring less than 40.

Fun factOregon leads the nation with 17 interceptions, which is the program's most through nine games since 1988. The Ducks' 11.78 points off turnovers per game ranks second in the country and is a major contributing factor in the Ducks’ eight-game winning streak.

Betting line: Oregon opened as 26.5 point favorites over Arizona, which marks the Ducks’ sixth straight home game as a double-digit favorite.

Players to keep an eye on

Running back J.J. Taylor

With 3,108 career rushing yards, J.J. Taylor has the 12th most rushing yards by any active Division I player. He has also moved up to No. 6 on Arizona's career rushing list and is 56 yards away from passing Mike Bell for fifth all-time.  

Oregon had no answer for Taylor in last season’s Arizona win, rushing for 212 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns against UO. Taylor has 566 yards and five touchdowns this season.

Linebacker Colin Schooler

Schooler has 42 career tackles-for-loss, which is tied for fourth-most by an active Division I player. His 37 career solo tackles for loss are second-most nationally by an active player and the most by a linebacker.

What’s the deal at quarterback?

Oregon is preparing for both true senior Khalil Tate and freshman Grant Gunnell. Tate has started in Arizona’s last four games (all loses) but has split time with Gunnel in all of those starts.

Tate has passed for 6,001 yards in his career, which ranks sixth-most in program history. The senior is erratic at times and sensational at times. Gunnell has completing 66.4 percent of his passes this year, which currently ranks as the best ever by an Arizona freshman quarterback.

3 keys to an Oregon victory

Playing with passion, not emotion

Arizona has beaten Oregon in each of the past three matchups where the Wildcats enter unranked and the Ducks enter ranked. The Wildcats upset No. 19 Oregon last season. With redemption on the horizon, the Ducks must play with focused passion instead of blurred vengeance. Coming off a bye week, it’d be easy for Oregon to lose the positive momentum of its eight-game winning streak. Those uncharacteristic penalties must be eliminated. Staying disciplined and setting the tone early is important for an Oregon victory.

Limit big Wildcat plays

Arizona has had five plays go for 70 or more yards this season. Only Oklahoma State, Alabama, Colorado State and UCF have more. The Wildcats’ total offense (495.8 yards per game) ranks second in the Pac-12 and 12th in the country. The Duck defense must limit Arizona’s receivers and Taylor to short plays to keep this potential season altering upset at bay.

Let Herbert loose

Fresh off a three-touchdown pass performance against USC, Herbert’s elite arm should light up a suspect Arizona defense. Herbert connected on 20 of his final 21 passes after starting the game 1-for-5 and tacked on a rushing touchdown. Now, it’s time to build on that dominance this Saturday. I expect Herbert to continue to find wide receiver Juwan Johnson, continuing to bloom their explosive chemistry.

Fun fact, Oregon is averaging 44.2 points per game in Justin Herbert's 20 career starts (17-3) at Autzen Stadium.

How and where to watch

Time: Saturday, Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m. (PT)

Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon

TV: ESPN

Radio: KUGN-AM (590), KUJZ-FM (95.3), KZEL-FM (96.1)

Coach Smith on “explosive” Khalil Tate and Arizona’s multiple QB system

Coach Smith on “explosive” Khalil Tate and Arizona’s multiple QB system

 

The Oregon State Beavers (3-4, 2-2 Pac-12) travel to Tucson, AZ in search of being 0.500 this late into the season for the first time since 2014. 

But they’ll have their hands full with Arizona (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12) and their “explosive” quarterback Khalil Tate. Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith detailed his big play ability during Monday’s press conference.

“I watched the tape against Stanford. The guy ripped off, like a 60-yard touchdown run. The guy’s [an] explosive player.”

However, Arizona has been playing multiple quarterbacks this season due to Tate’s struggles. As a result, true freshman Grant Gunnell has seen inconsistent playing time. However, he completed all seven of his pass attempts against Stanford including one touchdown pass. 

Gunnel was a pro-style quarterback coming out of high school while Tate is a dual threat option, and the Beavers will need to prepare for both.

“We’re gonna watch the tape...I think it’s just hard to make wholesale changes in 6 day’s span. We’re planning on seeing what they’ve put on tape, and be ready to make some adjustments if it’s different in the first quarter.”

Smith later discussed how different the offenses will look depending on the quarterback in the game.

“They’re playing two quarterbacks now, which do have two different skill sets. The offense isn’t totally different when the other guy’s in, but they can score in bunches. You just look at their stats and their tape, and they present some problems.”

Oregon State’s game against Arizona kicks off at 1:30pm on Saturday in Tucson, AZ.

You can watch Smith’s full answers in the video above.

MORE ON BEAVS:

Pro Beavs Blog: Needed a little more Moore in Week 8 NFL action

Oregon State women's basketball take care of business in season opener

Jermar Jefferson doesn't want to redshirt...but should he?

Herbert returns, but it's Oregon's defense that shines in win over Arizona

Herbert returns, but it's Oregon's defense that shines in win over Arizona

EUGENE - Oregon finally did something on the football field worth talking about this season by defeating Arizona 48-28 Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.

The Ducks needed a big win in the worst way. They needed the type of victory that would truly signal the program's turnaround under new coach Willie Taggart in a season filled with disappointing performances and yawn-inspiring wins. They needed a win like Saturday's to validate the existing belief by many that the Ducks' future is bright under Taggart. 

For that victory to occur, the Ducks needed sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert to return to action for the first time since breaking his left collarbone seven weeks again against California. But while he certainly did his thing, by far the most important entity on the field Saturday was the Ducks' defense, which devoured Arizona's emerging superstar quarterback, Khalil Tate. 

The win, something Oregon was favored by odds makers to pull of, wasn't supposed to go down like it did. Tate, who in just seven starts had amassed more than 1,252 yards rushing, more resembled a kitten trapped in a box against Oregon than the dynamic Wildcat quarterback that saved Arizona's season, and maybe coach Rich Rodriguez's job, with one show-stopping performance after another. 

When Saturday's game ended, Tate sat at 32 yards rushing, Taggart flashed his victory smile and Oregon had by far its best win of the season.

The Ducks (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) are now bowl eligible with feeble Oregon State (1-10, 0-8) up next in the Civil War. Oregon has a great chance to finish the season 8-5 with what should be an easy win over the Beavers followed by likely victory in a bowl game against what likely will be an inferior opponent. But when this season is in the history books, the victory that should be remembered most will be the night the Ducks denied a superstar in the making to make fools out of them and defeated a team that had a real shot at winning 10 games before the Ducks got done with them. 

"It means a lot," Taggart said of the victory that came after five games of mostly turmoil. "It shows the progress in our football team and that we're headed in the direction that we want to go."

With Herbert out, the Ducks lost four out of five games and scored just 34 combined points in those four losses with freshman Braxton Burmeister starting at quarterback. But Oregon team righted itself by realizing that it couldn't lay blame at the feet of the freshman when the entire team had contributed to the team's follies. 

A renewed attention to detail led to a better team on the field when Herbert returned. Especially on defense. That proved true on Saturday. 

Taggart said the plan for Tate was simple: Force him to hand the ball off on zone read and contain him in the pocket. 

Tate looked unstoppable on Arizona's first drive in which the Wildcats never faced a third down and scored after 11 plays covering 83 yards. After that, the Ducks made life miserable for Tate. A defender ran at him every time he showed an inside hand off in order to force him to give the ball to the running back. On passing plays, outside edge rushers committed more to containing him the pocket then going all out for sacks. 

"We tried to keep him in a box," dye said. "We tried to keep him from getting out in space."

That strategy only worked because the Ducks did a great job of stopping the inside and outside zone plays. Many a defense has focused on eliminating running quarterback only to get gashed by inside runs. See virtually every team that ever faced former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota while he operated Oregon's zone read run game from 2012 through 2014. 

Arizona finished with just 171 yards rushing after entering the game averaging 347.7 and even more than that since Tate took over as the starting quarterback. 

"It was just a collective team effort," Dye said. 

The combination of bottling up the inside run game and keeping Tate from finding any creases doomed Arizona's running game, which in turn did a number on the Wildcats' passing game. Tate has a strong arm and throws a good ball but he has yet to prove to be skilled enough to carry a team with his arm. Arizona's previous passing success with him had come about through forcing opposing defenses to focus heavily on the run and thus become susceptible to big plays over the top. Tate entered the game averaging just over 10 yards per pass attempt. Oregon held him to 4.5 on Saturday. 

“We didn’t block them well, we didn’t read them well, and they did a good job," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "The frustrating part is we’ll probably watch the film, and they were playing the exact way we thought they’d play, but they were better than us.”

Truth be told, Taggart said he was nervous about how his defense would perform early on in the preparation process because scout team quarterback Demetri Burch, a three-star wide receiver recruit who played quarterback in high school, had been routinely destroying the Ducks' defense in practice.

"They were so frustrated at times they tackled Demetrius when they could," Taggart said. "Sometimes they couldn't."

Having an off week, Taggart said, proved vital in preparing the defense for Tate. By the end of game week, UO's defense had demonstrated greater success against Burch in practice.

"Without Demetri Burch I don't think we would have played the way we played tonight," Dye said. "He gave us a tremendous look these past 10 days."

Oregon cornerback Ugochukwu Amadi said Burch proved to be tougher to defend against than Tate.

The victory made the Ducks bowl eligible a year after going 4-8. Taggart said that he had one question for Nike founder and Oregon mega-booster Phil Knight: "Does Nike make bowling shoes?" 

Corny, to be sure. 

But what's not corny is that the Ducks have clearly made great strides this season, something Taggart traces back to team camaraderie. 

"We've got a group of young men that believe in each other and that care about each other," he said. "I think we saw that throughout the season when we could have easily folded."

Watch: Rapid Reaction- Ducks defense devours Khalil Tate

Watch: Rapid Reaction- Ducks defense devours Khalil Tate

BOX SCORE

Oregon made Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate look quite ordinary during a 48-28 win over Arizona Saturday night at Autzen Stadium. 

UO held Tate to 32 yards rushing after he had amassed 1,252 on the ground in just seven starts. That performance by the Ducks (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) overshadowed the return of quarterback Justin Herbert from a broken left collarbone that forced him to miss five games. He looked a bit rusty while completing 14 of 21 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown with one interception. 

Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman rushed for 135 yards on 19 carries and scored four touchdowns to give him 62 total touchdowns for his career, breaking LaMichael Jame's former team record of 58. 

Arizona presents Oregon with a chance to finally 'do something'

Arizona presents Oregon with a chance to finally 'do something'

The Oregon Ducks have a chance to finally "do something" of substance this season when they host Arizona on Saturday. 

Oregon (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) not only needs a win in the worst way, but the Ducks could use a victory against a strong opponent in order to validate this uneven season in some capacity. To date, coach Willie Taggart's first year at UO has seen a hot start fueled by taking down weak opponents morph into a hot mess after sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert - expected back this week - went down with a collarbone injury.  

Oregon's best victories this season have come against Utah (5-5, 2-5), California (5-5, 2-5) and Nebraska (4-6, 3-4 BigTen). That's hardly a lot to brag about having defeated. Following the Wildcats (7-3, 5-2) on the schedule will be Oregon State (1-9, 0-7) in the Civil War then, assuming UO qualifies for the postseason, a likely inferior bowl game opponent awaits in December. 

A bowl victory would certainly be sweet for Taggart, who has yet to win a bowl game. But the signature victory of the season would still ben a win over the Wildcats, who have won five of their last six games since sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate became the starter.

The trajectories of both teams have been vastly different since Tate replaced injured starter Brandon Dawkins against Colorado on Oct. 7 and Herbert went down with his injury during a win over Cal the following week.

While Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez discovered that he could have a future Heisman Trophy candidate on his hands, Taggart discovered that his freshman backup, Braxton Burmeister, wasn't close to being ready for Pac-12 play. Consequently, not only did the Ducks go 1-4 in Herbert's absence, but aside from a 41-20 win over the Utes, the Ducks scored just 34 points in four defeats. 

Young quarterback, or not, generating just 8.5 points per game in four losses is a poor reflection on the offensive coaching staff armed with a strong offensive line and a stable of good to great running backs led by Royce Freeman. They couldn't average at least 17 points per game despite poor quarterback play? Oregon still would have still lost all four games but at least the Ducks would have shown a pulse. 

With Herbert expected back this week - Taggart said x-rays later in the week would determine his quarterback's availability - Oregon has a chance to erase the madness of the season by closing strongly with three consecutive wins, highlighted by a victory over Arizona. 

Ironically, Taggart swiped Burmeister from Arizona where he had originally committed. Taggart also flipped freshman receiver Darrian McNeal, who has two receptions for 10 yards. So far, that hasn't worked out so well for UO.

But Taggart and the Ducks can make everything right with a win on Saturday. It is likely to be a shootout. Taggart said the Ducks would have to "pray" in order to defend against Tat. Taggart isn't lying. Oregon has zero chance of "stopping" Tate. But, the Ducks' defense could be good enough prevent Tate from eclipsing the volume of offense Oregon should generate with Herbert back in the pocket. 

He will return to find a better team than the one he left. Senior receiver Charles Nelson hasn't caught a pass from Herbert since the first half of the team's win at Wyoming in game 3. When Nelson returned to action at UCLA, Herbert was already down and out. Now they will be reunited in the passing game that will only be helped by a running game that maintained a high level of production despite the lack of a passing threat to keep defenses honest. 

By any measure, this has been somewhat of a disappointing season for Oregon when one considers what might have been had Herbert remained healthy. Now the focus must be to go 3-0 the rest of the way and ride into the offseason with a win over Arizona, a bowl victory and an 8-5 record. 

---

Oregon vs. Arizona

When: 4 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium, Eugene.  

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Off

Records: Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12), Arizona (7-3, 5-2).

Last week: Arizona won 49-28 vs. Oregon State. The Ducks were off.  

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (45-50, 5-5 at Oregon); Arizona's Rich Rodriguez (163-116-2, 43-32 at Arizona.

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Rodriguez is the inventor of the zone read play that he made famous during his days at West Virginia. Now he has an even better running quarterback in Tate than Pat White, who became a dominant force for the Mountaineers 10 years ago under Rodriguez. Tate is doing things from a rushing standpoint that had never been done before in the Pac-12.  Tate is so good as a runner that he makes former Oregon quarterbacks; Marcus Mariota and Dennis Dixon look ordinary. 

Arizona leads the Pac-12 with 347.7 yards rushing per game. Of that, 161.6 has come from Tate. He is the first Pac-12 quarterback to ever rush for 1,000 yards in a season (1,293 on 11.3 yards per carry). 

Arizona doesn't throw much but when it does, Tate is more than capable of producing big plays, but he has thrown six interceptions. 

Where Arizona is weak is on defense. It ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense. For that reason, it's a good bet that Oregon's more balanced offense, matched against a vastly inferior defense, will prove to be too much for Tate to overcome. 

Game prediction: Oregon 47, Arizona 40.

Oregon faces virtual must-win against struggling Utah

Oregon faces virtual must-win against struggling Utah

Oregon reaching a bowl game appeared to be a virtual given not too long ago. Three blowout losses later and the Ducks find their postseason hopes leaning against the ropes with reality rearing back to deliver a knockout blow.

The Ducks will host Utah on Saturday in what should be considered all but a must-win for Oregon, which faces a tough schedule down the stretch.

UO coach Willie Taggart, when asked following his team's 31-14 loss at UCLA on Saturday how important it would be for these young Ducks (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) to gain the experience that comes with playing in a bowl game, said he couldn't even consider such things at the moment. 

“We’re not thinking about bowl right now,” Taggart said. “We need to get another win...If we get another win then we’ll start thinking about those other things. But it’s really, really important now that we find a way to win a ball game.

Failing to reach a bowl game this season should be viewed as a colossal disaster. Despite Oregon going 4-8 last year, plenty of reasons existed to expect the Ducks to win at least six games in 2017. Starting out 4-1 then failing to capture two additional victories over seven remaining contests would certainly be a bad look for Taggart and the program, even when factoring in the loss of sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert (collarbone), who has missed the team's last three games. His return date is unknown. 

Surely Oregon should have been expected to scratch out two more wins with anyone at quarterback. 

Oregon's margin for error to reach 6-6 and become bowl eligible is virtually zero with Utah visiting Autzen on Saturday. As it stands right now, Oregon has one seemingly very winnable game remaining and that's the Civil War on Nov. 25 at home to close the regular season against Oregon State (1-6, 0-4). 

The Ducks also have one seemingly guaranteed loss, with or without Herbert, and that's Nov. 4 at 12 Washington (6-1, 3-1).

If those two games turn out as most of the world would expect them to, the Ducks would need to get a win against either the Utes or surging Arizona on Nov. 11 to reach six victories.

Herbert should return no later than Nov. 11. His injury was said to keep him out 4-to-6 weeks. This Saturday would be the fourth week since the injury occurred Sept. 30 against California. The Arizona game happens seven weeks out. But defeating the Wildcats would be anything but a given even with Herbert and that game looks now like a sure loss if he were not to play.

Arizona sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate has been lighting up the Pac-12 since becoming the Wildcats' starter on Oct. 7.  Tate has amassed 694 yards rushing in three starts and 468 passing with 11 total touchdowns. Arizona has won all three of his starts while averaging 46.3 points per game. 

He has had the opposite impact on his team that Oregon freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister has had on his since replacing Herbert. The Ducks have scored 31 points in three games with Burmeister at quarterback. Simply math would indicate that UO would have a tough time defeating Arizona and Tate without Herbert. 

Even with Herbert, expecting him to out-duel Tate after sitting out seven weeks would be foolish. Herbert could help UO put up numbers but Arizona should be expected to also score a lot of points making the outcome very much in doubt. 

Consequently, it's imperative that the Ducks win over Utah in order to ease the pressure of having to take down Tate and Arizona. 

Believe it or not, the Ducks have a chance to do so even if Burmeister makes his fourth start. Utah is reeling at the moment having lost three consecutive games. The Utes' offense is a mess, which is exactly what the Ducks need to see. If Utah can be held to under 27 points it is possible that Burmeister makes enough progress to lift the Ducks to a close win. 

What Oregon truly needs is for Herbert to make a miraculous recovery and play on Saturday. Either way, the Ducks had better approach this game with a do-or-die mentality.

---

Oregon vs. Utah

When: 2:45 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Utah minus 3 1/2.

Records: Ducks (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12), Utah (4-3, 1-3).

Last week: Arizona won 45-44 in overtime at California (4-4, 1-4). Oregon lost 31-14 at UCLA (4-3, 2-3). 

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (44-49, 4-4 at Oregon); Utah's Kyle Whittingham (108-53).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Utah has lost three consecutive games to Stanford, at USC and home against ASU. The offense has fallen on hard times while the defense went from allowing 19 points per game through the first four contests to giving up a still solid 27.0.

Oregon, these days, can accommodate such numbers with an offense that has scored 31 points over the last three games. One could very easily see Utah winning this game 24-17. 

Preliminary pick (waiting on Herbert news): Oregon 27, Utah 20. Oregon will be home against a mediocre opponent that is struggling on offense. That, and a couple more plays from Burmeister than usual, will be enough to help the Ducks get that all important fifth victory. Then Taggart can start talking about how important it would be for his team to appear in a bowl game.