The PAC 12 Championship, Arizona at Oregon: 8 Things to Know
On December 5th, Oregon and Arizona will take their new heated rivalry to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA to battle it out for the rights to the PAC 12 title.
Oregon and Arizona met earlier in the season, with the Wildcats prevailing in front of a shocked Eugene crowd. Arizona was able to dominate along the line of scrimmage, and held the Heisman Trophy frontrunner Marcus Mariota at bay for most of the game.
Oregon is looking to avenge this loss, and propel themselves into the inaugural College Playoffs; while Arizona and Head Coach Rich Rodriguez is looking to prove that the Wildcats are a true contender and catapult the program into the national spotlight.
Here are eight things to look for in the 2014 PAC 12 Conference Championship Game:
Marcus Mariota – I will be the first to admit that I was wrong in thinking that there was too much pressure for Oregon QB Marcus Mariota to rise as a Heisman contender this season. Mariota has been nothing short of phenomenal this season. Mariota has been more than a tremendous athlete, but a leader on and off the field. The Ducks success in 2014 has been due in large part to the play and leadership of Marcus Mariota. The Senior Quarterback has the talent to put up huge numbers every game, but as a savvy game manager, he encompasses the talents of his teammates, and puts the goals of his team over individual statistics. If Mariota decides that its time to move onto the next level, he will surely be considered a candidate for the top pick in the draft.
Anu Solomon – The Arizona Wildcats have a bright future ahead of them due in large part to their super Freshman Anu Solomon. Solomon is a phenomenal athlete and has shown tremendous poise under pressure this season. The young Quarterback has been called a smaller Marcus Mariota due to his tremendous speed, and ability to make plays. Solomon has thrived under coach Rich Rodriguez this season while throwing for 3,424 yards and 27 touchdowns. Anu Solomon is the future of the PAC 12 conference, and fans should take note of his skills in the Championship game.
Royce Freeman – This season in the PAC 12 Conference seemed to be jam packed with tremendous play from the new freshman class, and Oregon’s Royce Freeman was the leader of this class. Freeman has been nothing short of sensational this season rushing for 1,185 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns. Freeman is a departure of Oregon’s prior Running Backs with his bruising and straight-rushing style. At 6’1” and 229lbs, Freeman enjoys making the initial contact, and is extremely difficult to take down at the initial point of contact. Arizona will have to make sure they can wrap up Freeman on the initial point of contact, or it will be a huge day for the young man.
Bear Down Defense – Much has been said this season about the tremendous display that the Arizona offense has generated, but not much has been talked about the successful play of their “Bear Down” defense. The Wildcats were the only team to slow down the Ducks this season, and has vastly improved this season on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Scooby Wright has been a tackling and sack machine for the Wildcats. If the Ducks are to avenge their prior loss, they will need to make sure that Wright is blocked on every down or it will be a long day for the Ducks offense.
Ducks Offensive Line – The Oregon Ducks came into this season believing they had their best offensive lines in years; but the dreaded injury bug has hit the Ducks this season. The Ducks have been able to overcome these issues with the leadership of Senior Hroniss Grasu, but Grasu has recently succumbed to the injury bug. The Ducks will need a strong performance against the Wildcats, as the key to success in the game is to make sure that Quarterback Marcus Mariota remains upright and mobile.
Best Battle of the Game – The best head-up matchup of the game will be between standout Oregon Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olumu and Arizona’s speedy Cayleb Jones. Ekpre-Olumu has tremendous cover skills, and has a nose for making the big play. Jones has great size, speed and always seems to make the big play for the Wildcats. This will be a battle that will continue into the professional ranks as both players are slated to become top draft picks in the coming years.
Coaching Prowess – Oregon’s Mark Helfrich and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez are two top coaches with a distinct contrast in coaching styles. Helfrich is Oregon born and bred, and bleeds green and yellow. Helfrich is known to be even-keeled on the sidelines, and for his “next man up” approach that embraces innovation. Arizona Head Coach Rich Rodriguez has been known to be a fiery motivator. Rodriguez has been able to change the philosophy in Tucson, and led the Wildcats to believe that they belong in the upper echelon of the PAC 12. Rodriguez and Helfrich are both offensive innovators, with two different approaches at getting the message across. One thing is for certain, both coaches are highly respected, and looking to move their programs higher into national prominence.
Levi’s Stadium – The PAC 12 Championship will be played under the bright lights of the brand new “Jewel of Silicon Valley”, Levi’s Stadium on Friday night. The biggest factor that no one saw coming is the fact that Northern California has been hit with a torrential rainfall over the past week, and the forecast is calling for showers at kickoff. Arizona and Oregon both play on artificial turf, and will be in for a rude awakening with the natural grass sod turf at Levi’s Stadium. The field is going to be wet, and will most likely cause several slips and falls that would not occur on an artificial surface. Both teams will need to wear good spikes; it’s going to be messy out there.