TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — No. 11 Oregon State has beaten two AP Top 25 teams this season and is already bowl eligible for the third straight season, continuing the Beavers' upward trajectory under coach Jonathan Smith.
A win Saturday at Arizona will give Oregon State its best start since 2012, when the Beavers reached No. 7 in the poll.
The past few years, a trip to Tucson often meant a win.
That's not the case this season. The Wildcats have made huge strides in their third season under coach Jedd Fisch and are coming off a road win over a ranked opponent.
"We want some energy and excitement about what we’re doing, but ultimately, each week, you never know how these games are going to go," Smith said. "The only thing we can control is how we prepare. We want to play in meaningful games at the end of the year, and the only way to do that is to take care of business right now.”
Oregon State (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) has followed a 10-win 2022 season with a stellar start this year.
Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has given the Beavers a huge boost in their passing game, throwing for 1,573 yards and 15 touchdowns. Oregon State has the ground game to balance out its offense, averaging 5.46 yards per carry, 13th nationally.
The Beavers' defense has been solid, holding teams to 20 points per game, including three to single digits. Oregon State beat No. 13 Utah earlier in the season and took down No. 23 UCLA before its bye last week.
Arizona (4-3, 2-2) appears to be on the same path Oregon State started on a few years ago.
The Wildcats had a one-win season in Fisch's first season, improved to 5-7 last season and have continued their upward swing this year.
Arizona still has a potent offense, but now has a much better defense to go with it. The Wildcats are coming off a 44-6 win over then-No. 19 Washington State, took No. 24 Southern California to triple overtime and lost to Mississippi State in overtime.
“If you look at just the way his team has developed, the type of football they play, the brand of football they play, I think we have similarities in that regard,” Fisch said. “We believe in a lot of the same things, a lot of the same principles.”
Arizona quarterback Noah Fifita has been superb since Jayden de Laura suffered an ankle injury against Stanford on Sept. 23.
Fifita has throw for 946 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions in three starts, all against ranked opponents. Fisch has yet to announce a starter now that de Laura appears to be healthy, so the Beavers will have to prepare to face both.
“I think they’ve got similar skillsets, both are accurate and know that scheme inside and out," Smith said. "Both are really competitive and you can see that not just in the pocket but when they leave the pocket. They have a really good offense in general. There’s no question they’ve got a couple of quarterbacks they can win games with and Noah, the last few they’ve shown that.”
RED ZONE EXCELLENCE
Oregon State has been superb in the red zone, entering Saturday' game as one of three teams to score on every possession inside the opponent's 20.
The Beavers are 25 for 25 in the red zone and lead the nation with an 84% touchdown conversion rate with 23. South Alabama and Western Kentucky are the only other teams still perfect in the red zone.
Oregon State's red zone perfection will be put to the test against Arizona.
After years of struggling on defense, the Wildcats are 36th nationally defending the red zone, allowing teams to convert 76% of the time.
AP Sports Writer Anne Peterson contributed to this story.
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