Here are three things to watch in the Arizona Wildcats’ game vs. Oregon State at Arizona Stadium (Saturday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN2), plus a score prediction and some pertinent preview links:
1. TATE DEBATE
Which Khalil Tate will we see tonight? The one who could do no wrong for an entire month? Or the one who tried to do too much at USC? I’m betting on the former. The USC game was personal for Tate. He wanted to win so badly that it clouded his judgment at times. Some theorize that it’ll be more of the same against the Beavers as Tate tries to make up for the mistakes he made last week. But I guarantee you Rich Rodriguez and Rod Smith spent the week emphasizing to Tate the importance of running the offense and letting the game come to him. He has proved to be a quick study since taking over the quarterback job. He won’t let his ego get in the way of what’s best for the team. And he’ll end up getting his. Even after being stopped for about 2½ quarters last week, Tate still ended up with 161 rushing yards. He didn’t break off a 70-plus-yard run, but he did have a 54-yarder. He doesn’t need to play hero ball, and he won’t.
2. NALL AND VOID
The Wildcats won’t finish this season the way they want to if they don’t improve against the run. The Beavers will provide a good test. Ryan Nall is a battering ram at 6-foot-2, 237 pounds. He had 139 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns in last year’s meeting. He had 189 scrimmage yards the following week in the Civil War. He had 200 yards and three scores last month against Colorado. Rodriguez wants to see as many Wildcats running to the ball as possible – a wise tactic in any game but especially prudent against a back who won’t go down on first contact. Expect to see a lot of “heavy boxes” by both defenses as each tries to thwart the other team’s ground attack. USC’s 331 rushing yards last week were a season high for a UA opponent. Four of the past five have rushed for at least 172 yards (the lone exception: Washington State, which passed for 602). Three of the past four have rushed for four touchdowns. That simply cannot continue.
3. SENIOR-NIGHT SURPRISES
We already got one Thursday, when starting left guard Christian Boettcher participated in Arizona’s post-practice senior sendoff. Boettcher is a redshirt junior. I’m told he has decided to stop playing football after this season. Boettcher, a biochemistry major, will graduate soon. He told me earlier this season he plans to go to law school. The upshot for the Wildcats? Assuming left tackle Layth Friekh doesn’t get an extra year, Arizona will have to replace four of its five starting offensive linemen next season. The Wildcats also could be in the market for a new backup quarterback. This is not based on sourcing but on the way things work these days. Like Boettcher, Brandon Dawkins is a redshirt junior. Many quarterbacks in his situation – unlikely to start with one year of eligibility left – end up transferring, taking advantage of the NCAA’s grad-transfer policy. So it’s possible tonight will mark Dawkins’ final home game as well. If all goes according to plan, he could get in the game in the second half. Hopefully UA fans will treat him with the respect he deserves.
FINAL SCORE: Arizona 48, Oregon State 21