By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez likes to say there are four stages of building a program: Lose big, lose close, win close, win big.
When it comes to Arizona being on the road against ranked teams, the Wildcats are stuck in stage 1.
UA takes on second-ranked Oregon on Thursday night in Eugene, a game that, given the Ducks' firepower, could easily turn into a runaway. The Cats have seen that show before, losing 49-0 in Autzen Stadium in 2012.
That started an 0-5 skid under Rodriguez in road games against ranked teams. Only one was close - a 54-48 overtime loss at Stanford in 2012. The other results were "lose big:" 66-10 at UCLA in 2012, 31-13 at Washington in 2013 and 58-21 at ASU last season.
That's an average loss of 33.2 points - 51.6 to 18.4.
Arizona hasn't defeated a ranked team away from home since a 21-17 decision at USC in the last game of the 2009 regular season.
Now comes the loud and intimidating environment of Autzen Stadium.
"We just have to make sure we do a great job of communicating," Rodriguez said of the crowd noise. "As coaches, we can't get caught up in trying to change every play and trying to do a lot of verbalization, because that will be hard to do."
THREE QUESTIONS WITH SENIOR DEFENSIVE END REGGIE GILBERT
Q: Does playing on a Thursday night get you even more fired up?
Gilbert: Definitely. Everyone around the country is tuning in. Everybody has their eye on you. I remember back in my freshman year, we played a Thursday night game and I missed a tackle, and I was hearing all about it. I had about 20 texts - 'I see you missed that tackle.' There's definitely a lot of pressure to perform. If I mess up during the game, I'm going to hear about it."
Q: When you go back and watch the game film, can you tell how linebacker Scooby Wright is playing behind you?
Gilbert: "Scooby is out there flying around with his hair on fire. I definitely love the way he's been playing. Last year, when I saw him at the first practice, I said, 'There's something special about that kid.'"
Q: As one of the older players, what do you tell the young guys about playing at Oregon?
Gilbert: It's showtime. Don't get nervous. Just let it all hang out. I'm going to try my best to tell the young bucks to not be nervous, to let them know that, 'You're out there with your brothers. It's not just you out there. There are 10 others out there with you.'"
ESPN last week published the results of a coaches' survey, asking who is the best offensive head coach in the nation. ESPN received 98 responses, with Baylor's Art Briles at No. 1 with 22 percent of the vote.
Five Pac-12 coaches made the top 10, but the shocking part was that Rodriguez wasn't one of them. All he has done is develop and popularize the zone-read spread offense, combined with an all-the-time up-tempo attack, which is a part of almost every playbook in the country.
Oregon's Mark Helfrich landed at No. 5 in the survey. Other Pac-12 coaches to make the list were Washington State's Mike Leach at No. 7, followed by Stanford's David Shaw, Oregon State's Mike Riley and Washington's Chris Petersen.
THREE OREGON PLAYERS TO WATCH
You know about quarterback Marcus Mariota. Here are three more difference-makers:
1. CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. He's a returning All-American who had a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown against Arizona in 2012. But he's not perfect. He gave up two touchdowns on fade routes in the most recent game against Washington State, and, at 5-foot-10, his matchups with Arizona's size (Cayleb Jones, Austin Hill, etc.) will be intriguing.
2. RB Byron Marshall. He ran for 1,000 yards last season but the Ducks are using him more as an X-factor this season, often lining him up at receiver. His 18 catches lead the team, while true freshman Royce Freeman and sophomore Thomas Tyner take the majority of reps at tailback.
3. WR Devon Allen. A graduate of Phoenix Brophy Prep, Allen is a freshman speedster with five touchdowns among his 14 catches. He is averaging 21.4 yards per reception.
"He works harder than everyone else. He's one of those guys who is in the weight room when you don't ask him to. And then he's doing extra workouts when we are doing stuff in the weight room. He works his tail off in practice. When we're going against the scout team, Scooby is trying to take the kids' heads off the entire time." - Former UA linebacker Jake Fischer, on Arizona sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright
Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.