No. 12 Oregon will be going for its fifth consecutive win Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., but the Ducks have reason to be wary of an Arizona team that went 1-11 last season.
The Wildcats (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) have remade themselves into having one of the hottest passing games in the conference, led by Washington State transfer Jayden de Laura and a trio of playmaking receivers. De Laura has thrown for more than 400 yards in each of his first two Pac-12 games at Arizona, including 484 yards and a school-record-tying six touchdowns in last week’s 43-20 win over Colorado.
“He throws lasers,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning. “He throws the ball on rhythm on a dart and he doesn’t need a big window to be able to attack. He’s able to extend play with his feet. This is a really good challenge for us. There haven’t been a lot of teams that have really slowed them down offensively. They’ve only maybe hurt themselves a couple of times to be honest.”
De Laura has thrown for 13 touchdowns with just one interception in Arizona’s three victories. He has three touchdown passes, five interceptions and a lost fumble in the two losses (Mississippi State and Cal).
His favorite target is another transfer, wide receiver Jacob Cowing from UTEP. Cowing, usually lining up in the slot, has 40 catches for 566 yards and seven touchdowns, often turning short passes into long gains.
“He’s fast. He’s twitchy,” said Arizona coach Jedd Fisch. “Football is a big game of geometry … and I think he can understand what angle a defender is coming at him, and he does a nice job of avoiding.”
Other weapons on Arizona’s receiving corps are Dorian Singer (32 receptions for 450 yards) and Tetairoa McMillan (three TDs , 18.1 yards per catch).
Oregon has the firepower – and more – to match.
The Ducks, after a season-opening flop at Georgia, have scored at least 41 points in each of the past four games.
Auburn transfer QB Bo Nix has thrown only interception since the Georgia game (when he was picked twice) and has completed 111 of 161 passes for 1,261 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has added five rushing touchdowns to go with 261 yards on the ground.
“He’s really talented. He’s probably as fast a quarterback as there is,” Lanning said. “No surprise for anybody in our building.”
The Ducks are averaging 6.0 yards per carry and 228.8 rushing yards per game (10th in the county). They will be taking aim at one of the nation’s worst rushing defenses; Arizona gives up 213.4 yards per game on the ground (125 nationally).
Oregon could get back a key defender this week – linebacker Justin Flowe, who sat out last week due to an undisclosed injury.
“I think things are trending in the right direction for Justin,” Lanning said Monday.
Things might not be trending in the right direction for the Wildcats after this week. Their next five games are against ranked teams – Oregon, at No. 21 Washington, No. 6 USC, at No. 11 Utah, at No. 18 UCLA – followed by Washington State (first among others receiving votes this week).