EUGENE, Ore. - A 60-degree chill and overcast skies had settled over Autzen Stadium on Friday afternoon when the Arizona Wildcats quietly, briskly stepped on the artificial surface for a walk-through.
Of course, nobody walks through anything at Oregon.
Oregon is a blur of energy and offensive excitement, plays run and yards gained in full-speed, no-huddle chunks. Any team hoping to hang with the third-ranked Ducks must beat the nation's fastest program at its own game.
Tonight is Arizona's chance.
The 22nd-ranked Wildcats (3-0) will take on Oregon on national television with hopes of extending their charmed start to the 2012 season. How they fare could determine whether the program is destined for something greater, or whether the hot start - the UA defeated Toledo, Oklahoma State and South Carolina State, all at home - was merely a prelude to a long Pac-12 year.
The UA enters the game as a three-touchdown underdog. But simply playing Oregon close won't be enough for UA quarterback Matt Scott.
"It's win or lose. That's what this game is about," Scott said. "You win some, you lose some, but we're going out there for the win. We're not going up there to say, hey, 'It's OK to lose by one touchdown.' It's not OK. We're going up there with the mindset that we're going to take this W."
To stop the Ducks (3-0), Arizona must contend with - and contain - superstar De'Anthony Thomas and tailback Kenjon Barner.
Thomas, the team's do-everything back and kick-returner, might be the most dynamic player in college football. Thomas has posted 472 total yards in three games this season. Despite carrying the ball just 13 times, he ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with 228 rushing yards.
Sports Illustrated put Thomas on its cover this week, along with the headline "The Fastest Man in Football."
Rodriguez knows all about Thomas' ability: He recruited the former Southern California high school star to Michigan.
"Even then, I had no doubts that he was going to have a great college career," Rodriguez said. "I just wish it wasn't in the Pac-12."
Even if they bottle up Thomas and Barner, the Wildcats still have to contend with Marcus Mariota. Oregon's redshirt freshman quarterback has been flawless so far this season, throwing for 674 yards and eight touchdowns in runaway wins over Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech. His pass efficiency rating of 180.54 is tops in the Pac-12 and 10th nationally.
Arizona will counter with Scott, who has been a yardage-gaining machine in his first three weeks, and a half-dozen skill-position players. He has posted 995 yards and seven touchdowns in the team's three wins while turning the ball over just once. Tailback Ka'Deem Carey and wide receiver Dan Buckner will try to build on their strong starts against a physical, fast Oregon defense.
The Wildcats will gun for the upset at Autzen, widely considered the toughest place in the Pac-12 to play.
Arizona spent all week bracing for the noise, with its new 75,000-watt stereo system on blast for four straight practices.
Between the noise and the opponent, the Wildcats will be tested like never before. Are they ready?
"Oregon, they're No. 3 in the nation," defensive lineman Sione Tuihalamaka said. "I respect them, but I'm ready to play them."
• What: No. 22 Arizona at No. 3 Oregon
• When: 7:30 p.m.
• TV: ESPN
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)
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