The Pac-12 Championship game is the first of the conference deciders weekend, with Oregon trying to keep their national championship and playoff bid going against they only team that’s beaten them this season – Arizona.
In fact, it’s not just this season. The Wildcats have beaten Oregon two games in a row and have been the only ones to pretty much slow down Marcus Mariota, the leading Heisman trophy candidate. IN the two losses Oregon averaged just 20 points compared to 47.9 as they went 22-1 against everyone else over the last two years, with their offensive efficiency dropping to 10.4 (PPG contributed to net scoring margin) compared to 24.3 against everyone else, while Mariota’s QBR dropped from 92 to a mere 62.
Mariota is the best among power-5 conference quarterbacks this season when throwing for over 15 yards, completing 58.3% of his passes. However, in the 31-24 loss that came accompanied with a very borderline and controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Tony Washington for taking his celebration after a sack a bit too far, allowing Arizona’s drive to win the game become a lot easier. It wasn’t just that, but it obviously helped.
While Mariota is obviously the player getting most of the attention in Santa Clara, Anu Solomon, the quarterback on the other side, has plenty to put on the table as well. He has been the best quarterback in the power five conferences when throwing on the move, completing more passes, throwing more touchdowns and passing for more yards than any other quarterback when his feet aren’t planted to the ground on a throw.
Oregon once again have one of the best offenses in the land, ranked 4th overall in points per game and putting 539.5 yards of offense each game. The key to their success is pace, which is something Arizona managed to do very well on their visit to Eugene. Slow down the game, don’t allow Oregon to get into any kind of rhythm, and make Mariota run for his life. Mariota runs well (5.9 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns), but the Ducks are better on design and not when he has to scramble from a blitz.
Oregon, despite the loss to Arizona, go in as the big favorites. Since losing to Arizona they’ve won seven in a row and only two of those wins by less than three touchdowns. Since week 7, they lead the nation with a 24.3 win margin, including road wins against ranked UCLA and Utah teams and blowing out Oregon State in Corvallis in yet another Civil War that wasn’t even remotely close yet again.
Arizona have had a bumpier road. After their 5-0 start they lost twice in three games: Once to USC and then at UCLA, but finished the season strong with four consecutive wins. After beating Washington by just one point they crushed a fading Utah team in Ogden by 32 points before winning what turned out to be their division winning game, beating Arizona State 42-35. It’s their first appearance in the conference title game, which they haven’t won since 1993.