No. 3 Oregon anxious as Arizona arrives amid skid

The No. 3 Oregon Ducks, riding their highest ranking since 2014, will open their Pac-12 season against the struggling Arizona Wildcats on Saturday night in Eugene, Ore.

Oregon (3-0) followed its big 35-28 victory at Ohio State with last weekend’s 48-7 home win over FCS opponent Stony Brook. Starting quarterback Anthony Brown departed in the first half due to injury and did not return.

“Feel good about Anthony. Looks really good,” coach Mario Cristobal said Monday about Brown’s status for this week.

Brown has been efficient, completing 45 of 76 for 558 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His backup is touted freshman Ty Thompson.

“Anthony has done a great job with his decision-making and making sure he doesn’t put the ball in defenders’ laps,” Cristobal said.

That efficiency complements a strong Oregon running game that will take aim at an Arizona defense allowing 192.3 yards per game on the ground.

The Ducks are putting up 212.3 rushing yards per game, led by CJ Verdell, who has 298 yards on 50 carries. Tag-team partner Travis Dye has 36 carries for 194 yards. Brown has added 122 on the ground.

The Ducks have won 14 consecutive games at Autzen Stadium, and this week’s game looks like a huge mismatch. Oddsmakers opened with Oregon favored by 28.5 points.

Arizona, under first-year head coach Jedd Fisch, was confident it could end the longest losing streak in the FBS last week, but it squandered a 13-0 first-half lead to FCS Northern Arizona and fell 21-19.

The Wildcats (0-3) have lost 15 in a row, dating to October 2019.

“We’re trying to build something brand new,” Fisch said. “When you come in and you take on a situation where you’re trying to build brand new, things are going to happen. There are going to be setbacks. I know no one wants to hear that and no one wants to be overly patient, but all of our enthusiasm and optimism doesn’t change.”

Fisch was uncertain Monday about who would start at quarterback, saying he would let the competition play out in practice.

Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz started the first two games (losses to BYU and San Diego State), but Fisch didn’t love his decision-making.

Will Plummer got the call against Northern Arizona but was replaced in the fourth quarter by South Florida transfer Jordan McCloud, who directed a late touchdown drive that ended with a failed two-point conversion that would have tied the game.

It hasn’t helped that Arizona hasn’t lacked much push up front in the run game, which is averaging just 79.0 yards per game. A physical Oregon defense should be ready.

Star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, who left the season opener with an ankle injury and hasn’t played since, is “getting better and better; still day-to-day,” Cristobal said Monday.

Safety Verone McKinley III is the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after intercepting two passes last week.

Oregon is fourth nationally in turnover margin at plus-2.33 per game. Arizona is at minus 0.67 per game.

The Wildcats also will be without two defenders for the first half. Defensive lineman Mo Diallo and safety Jaxen Turner were ejected in the second half of last week’s game because of targeting penalties.

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