Don Ryan/Associated Press file photo
Don Ryan/Associated Press file photo
TUCSON, Ariz. – Not long after his team’s latest race-up-the-field victory, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez was asked about the next opponent, the Oregon Ducks.
“Man, those dudes are fast,” Rodriguez said. “They have fast guys who play fast.”
Rodriguez has a few of his own, setting up what could be the fastest game in the West – or anywhere – late Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.
That’s when No. 22 Arizona (3-0), with the nonstop no-huddle offense Rodriguez helped innovate, takes on No. 3 Oregon (3-0) and Chip Kelly, the coach who put a rocket booster on RichRod’s original idea.
Scoreboard operators, get your fingers ready. Officials, loosen up your legs. Fans, don’t look away for too long.
No need for a play clock.
The knobs for these offenses don’t go to 10. They go to 11.
“There could be 300 plays in this game,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.
OK, 300 might be a stretch, but 200 certainly is a possibility.
Oregon has run 259 plays this season. That’s an average of 86 per game, with a high of 96 in its 63-14 win over Tennessee Tech.
That’s still well behind Arizona, which has snapped it 280 times, two behind Marshall for most in the nation. They had a school-record 102 in a 56-0 rollover of South Carolina State last weekend – 20 fewer than Tulane ran in its first two games combined.
“We’re very similar in the way we like to push the pace,” Rodriguez said.
And in the way they pile up yards and points.
Arizona is fourth nationally in total offense with 604.67 yards per game and 12th in scoring at 46.33 points. Oregon is seventh with 596.33 yards and fifth with 54 points.
To help you with the addition, they’ll combine for 100 points and 1,200 yards of offense if they stay on pace Saturday night.
Arizona leads the nation in first downs with 108 and has 139 points for the season, 25 less than its 2004 team scored during an 11-game season. The Wildcats also have had two of the top three most prolific games in school history already this season, with 624 yards against Toledo and 689 against South Carolina State.
Oregon, as has been the case under Kelly, has utilized the big play, scoring 23 touchdowns while averaging 27.25 minutes of possession per game. Arizona has been a little more methodical, scoring 18 touchdowns with an average time of possession of 31.46 minutes.
“They thrive on big plays and always have,” Rodriguez said. “They have guys that can take it.”
Both teams do.
Oregon has playmakers that seem to rotate in like it’s a hockey game.
Do-everything back De’Anthony Thomas made sure the Ducks didn’t miss Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James, averaging 15.4 yards every time he touches the ball, whether it’s running, receiving or returning punts.
There’s running back Kenjon Barner, quarterback Marcus Mariota, Keanon Lowe and 10 receivers averaging at least 10 yards per catch.
Arizona’s offense revolves around quarterback Matt Scott.
A projected star before spending two seasons behind Nick Foles, Scott has been a dynamic force in the desert after finally getting his shot at being The Man. The fifth-year senior has been a perfect fit for Rodriguez’s read-option offense, ranking fourth nationally with 395 total yards per game. He’s the Pac-12’s leading passer with 995 yards passing and is eighth in rushing with 190 yards.
“He’s a good passer, a good runner, everything,” Oregon defensive lineman Isaac Remington said.
Rodriguez was a trailblazer for the current no-huddle trend sweeping college football today, creating a 2-minute-drill-all-the-time offense while at Glenville State back in the 1990s. He took the offense with him to Clemson, West Virginia, Michigan and now Arizona, adding little tweaks along the way.
Kelly has done the same thing after meeting Rodriguez in 1999.
An assistant coach at New Hampshire at the time, Kelly had gone down to Clemson to visit with Rodriguez, then the Tigers offensive coordinator. Kelly took some of the ideas he got there and added a few wrinkles of his own to create an offensive juggernaut at New Hampshire, then injected it with jet fuel in Eugene.
“Unless you were in the room with Knute Rockne and those guys back in the day, you took it from somebody,” Kelly said.
Thirteen years later, these no-huddle maestros will face off for the first time to see who can rev up faster.
Yards will come in bunches. Numbers on the scoreboard could roll like a slot machine.
“It’s going to be interesting to see who is going to out-tempo who,” Aliotti said.
It sure will. Just don’t look away for very long.
John Miller/Associated Press file photo