One guy will be the focus for the Oregon Ducks on Saturday, and it's Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey.
Stop Carey, beat Arizona (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) in the 12:30 p.m. game Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Don't stop Carey, and the Ducks leave themselves open to an upset.
"He's a really good player," UO safety Brian Jackson says. "We got a lot of things to do to watch for him.
"They have a good quarterback, but their offense runs through this running back. They do things to spread formations, and get him the ball in space. If you tackle well, it negates everything."
Carey, a 5-10, 210-pound junior and hometown product (Tucson, Ariz.), ranks second in the NCAA with 150.3 yards rushing per game. He has 1,353 yards (5.6 per carry) and 12 TDs. He had 1,926 yards and 23 TDs last season, but managed only 79 yards on 21 carries in Oregon's 49-0 win at Autzen Stadium.
"He's kind of a got-it-all type of back," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich says. "Big, powerful, fast, great quickness. He's given everybody fits. Everybody that plays Arizona knows that's job one (to stop Carey). You have to try to contain him, you're not going to stop him."
Carey could be the best Pac-12 running back. How did the other two candidates perform against the Ducks? Stanford's Tyler Gaffney rushed 157 yards on 45 carries, Washington's Bishop Sankey rushed for 167 yards on 28 carries.
So, who knows? Maybe Carey runs wild, complemented by quarterback B.J. Denker?
The 6-3, 185-pound Denker, a senior from Torrance, Calif., has possibly played himself into being one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12. (Oregon's Marcus Mariota is the best, of course). Denker has thrown for 1,888 yards (59.7 percent) with 12 TDs and only four interceptions, and run for 709 yards (5.1 per carry) and 11 TDs.
As with most teams that play Oregon, it'll be up to the Rich Rodriguez-coach Arizona offense to generate points. Not too many defenses (outside of Stanford) slow down the Ducks and, even though Arizona has experience and some talent, I don't see the Wildcats completely containing Oregon unless something happens with Mariota's injured knee.
The Wildcats have decent defensive stats 22.2 points against, 387.9 yards against (163.5 rush, 224.4 pass).
"They deserve more credit than they get," UO defensive end Tony Washington says. "They've played a lot of close games. It's going to be a great game."
Stanford and Utah slowed the UO offense, with the Utes finally succumbing in the second half. Arizona might get some stops, but I'm not sure it's going to happen all game.
Stephen Alexander, another Tribune UO beat guy, sees Oregon winning 42-24, because it looks like, from the Utah game, that Mariota has the strength to play well if not his best. Steve Brandon, Tribune sports editor, sees it 35-24, Ducks.
Yes, I know the Wildcats just lost at home to Washington State. But, things happen in games. I think Arizona sniffs upset, with some inspired play on defense and big plays by Carey and Denker. It'll depend on whether the Wildcats can make the key defensive stops, and whether they can win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. And, of course, it depends on how well Mariota plays. What if the knee becomes a factor, again? Changes the whole complexion of the game.
I think it'll be a great game, but the Ducks prevail in the desert.
The pick: Oregon 38, Arizona 35