EUGENE — Two acknowledged gurus of the spread offense will face off when Oregon opens Pac-12 Conference play this week.
Chip Kelly, whose up-tempo spread-option has made the Ducks a national sensation since his arrival, and first-year Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, who advanced the shotgun zone-read run scheme Kelly and so many others have employed, will go head-to-head on Saturday when the Wildcats visit Autzen Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
The game will also match two top-25 teams, easily the most stern test yet for the Ducks. Oregon, which beat Tennessee Tech 63-14 on Saturday, moved up to No. 3 in the polls Sunday after USC slid behind the Ducks. Arizona, which broke into the top 25 just before upsetting Oklahoma State on Sept. 8, is No. 21 in the coaches' poll and No. 22 in the AP poll of media.
Rodriguez drew acclaim as offensive coordinator at Tulane in 1997 and 1998, helping the Green Wave put together an unbeaten season, and spent 1999 and 2000 at Clemson. It was there that Rodriguez met with Kelly — then a New Hampshire assistant — during one of his annual pilgrimages to study with staffs around the country.
No doubt they discussed the shotgun zone-read, now a staple of Oregon's offense. The quarterback becomes a running option on handoffs, reading a defender to decide whether to give or keep the ball.
"A lot of people give him credit for a lot of that stuff, which is rightly so," Kelly said.
The QB currently putting Rodriguez's concepts to use is Matt Scott, a senior who spent the last three years behind Nick Foles with the Wildcats. Through three games, Scott is fourth nationally in total offense, at 395 yards per game.
"Matt, I think, is perfect for what Rich is doing offensively," Kelly said. "He's one of the top guys in the country in total offense. And that's what he can really scare you with, because he throws it really well, but he has the speed and the athletic ability to hurt you in the run game."
OREGON'S DEFENSE HAS been strong so far in 2012, allowing 27 first-half points through three games, after which the Ducks have typically gone deep into their bench to get experience for younger players. But it was starters and backups flagged for four personal fouls against Tennessee Tech.
"Understanding the game plan, executing the game plan, I think our defensive coaches were happy with that," Kelly said. "I think our effort, we were happy with that. But you can't discount the penalties. That's all part of it. We have to do a better job, on both sides of the ball."
Kelly also noted five procedural penalties on the offense, and said those errors would be emphasized in this week's practices.
Now that conference play is beginning, the Ducks figure to use smaller rotations at most positions. They played every healthy, non-redshirting player available against Tennessee Tech, and used all but a handful against Arkansas State.
Kelly indicated that Oregon's rotations figure to be about the same as those used early in each nonconference game. That means some six defensive linemen, seven linebackers, six defensive backs, nine or 10 offensive linemen and eight receivers, depending on the health of Josh Huff, who sat out Saturday with a knee injury.
"Our set rotation is probably the same," Kelly said. "We talk about getting guys in early. Right now I think we're happy where we are. "… A lot of that depends on how the game expresses itself. But we plan on playing a lot of guys, and I think that's one of the strengths of this team right now."
THE DUCKS USED BACKUP quarterback Bryan Bennett in tandem with starter Marcus Mariota on at least two plays against Tennessee Tech, though with dubious results.
Bennett was on the field for Mariota's second-quarter interception, lining up in the backfield before going in motion and running a pass route. Mariota threw to the other direction and it was picked off.
Later in the second quarter, Bennett took a handoff deep in Tennessee Tech territory, but the play was blown dead because of a UO penalty.
"We have a package together with those guys," Kelly said Sunday. "We feel like if they're in, those plays can obviously help us win a game. It's not a whole, huge part of our offense, but there's a package involved with both those guys."
KELLY SAID HE'S NOT yet overly concerned with the Ducks' placekicking unit, which has missed both its attempts this season.
Kicker Rob Beard missed a 35-yard attempt in the opener against Arkansas State, and the Ducks had a 25-yard attempt blocked Saturday.
"Two different situations, one a longer kick, the other one pressure off the right side," Kelly said. "But it's the same unit that makes extra points all the time. With only two attempts, I don't really have a concern with how that unit's working."
Beard has connected on all 22 extra-point attempts through three games.