The past still stings for Oregon.
The past still stings for Oregon.
Last season the Ducks were 8-1 and ranked No. 2 in the country when they visited Arizona. They came away with a 34-24 loss, lost any hope of a national title, and saw Heisman hopeful Dennis Dixon's season end with a knee injury.
That day will be on the mind of many a Duck when Arizona visits Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
"That past is still here. We're gonna have to get 'em back for that. It's going to be a battle," Oregon rover Patrick Chung said.
And it's not just last year. The Wildcats beat the Ducks 37-10 in 2006, winning for the first time in Eugene since 1986.
"Of course, after a team beats you two years in a row and makes you go down from your goal, it tends to be a revenge thing. We don't want them to come in here an beat us a third year in a row," Oregon running back Jeremiah Johnson said.
Oregon (7-3, 5-2) is in a tangle with Arizona (6-3, 4-2) and California (6-3, 4-2) with a pair of losses in the Pacific-10 Conference. That means Saturday's game is key for both the Ducks and Wildcats when it comes to the final standings and bowl aspirations.
Arizona has not been to a bowl since 1998, when the team went to the Holiday Bowl and beat Nebraska 23-20.
"We can't let up. We have so much on our shoulders. We have so much we still expect," Arizona defensive end Ricky Elmore said. "We have to play our best."
Saturday's game will feature two fairly evenly matched teams.
The Wildcats are coming off a 59-28 victory over Washington State. Nic Grigsby ran for a career-best 189 yards and Arizona had its best showing on the ground since 1999 with 317 total yards rushing.
Grigsby, who has 885 yards rushing this season with 11 touchdowns, is part of a balanced offense that is averaging 39.11 points per game, 10th best in the nation. Quarterback Willie Tuitama has thrown for 1,993 yards and 16 touchdowns with five interceptions.
The Wildcats' are equally adept on defense, ranking third nationally by allowing an average just 154.56 yards passing yards by opponents. They rank 13th in the country for total defense, allowing 285.44 yards.
"They're one of the teams left in this race and statistically they're one of the best teams in this conference. If you look at their stats offensively and defensively, they're doing a great job. So it's a great challenge for us," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said.
"I'm glad we're playing at our place."
Oregon has struggled with its passing game this season, and the team got booed at times last weekend in a 35-28 victory over Stanford — at Autzen Stadium.
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, more skilled in scrambling situations, shrugged off the boos and led the Ducks on the game-winning march in the final two minutes, which included his own 25-yard run on third down to keep the drive alive.
Masoli came into fall practice as the third-string quarterback but has been thrust into the starting role because of injuries. As a result, the Ducks have relied heavily on the run, and they've had success.
Oregon leads the Pac-10 in rushing by a wide margin with an average of 274.3 yards a game. The Ducks have the nation's fifth-best rushing offense.
"You have to take care of the running game, but the way they set the run game up you just can't throw a bunch of people out there," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "They know what they are doing."
Arizona may have an advantage against Oregon' pass defense, which as allowed 246.1 passing yards per game. Seventeen of the 28 touchdowns allowed have come through the air.
But Oregon does have the revenge factor. Arizona players say they'll be expecting it.
"I'm sure they will have a chip on their shoulder," Arizona guard Joe Longacre said.
"That is fine, we will be ready."