Dan Lanning, Oregon expecting test from Arizona and the best wideout group they've seen yet
In another timeline, the Arizona Wildcats’ star freshman wide receiver, Tetairoa McMillan, would be lining up on the other side of Arizona Stadium on Saturday, wearing eggshell whites rather than Arizona’s blue and cardinal. McMillan was committed to Oregon for fourth months last year before signing with Arizona in the waning hours of December’s Early Signing Period.
“It was really more of a trust and a relationship thing,” McMillan said of his decision to flip. “Just the bonds that I’ve built with Coach (Jedd) Fisch and KC (receivers coach Kevin Cummings) and the friends that I had coming here. All those guys I already knew and trusted. It just made the process that much easier. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still happy with my decision.”
McMillan was a Mario Cristobal pledge. When Cristobal left for Miami and McMillan’s Anaheim (Calif.) Servite teammates who were already committed to Arizona put the full-court press on him, Arizona just made more sense. McMillan wanted to enroll early, which necessitated signing in December.
Oregon coach Dan Lanning tried to keep McMillan in the class, but time was just working against him. Recruiting is a relationships game, and Arizona surged ahead there when Cristobal bolted.
In the desert, McMillan is part of a trio of receivers keeping opposing defensive coordinators up at night. The Pac-12’s top two pass-catchers right now are Jacob Cowing (40 catches, 566 yards) and Dorian Singer (32, 450). They’re first and second in both yardage and receptions.
McMillan (16, 290) is currently third in the Pac-12 in yards per catch.
“I think this is maybe the most talented team we’ve played so far at wideout,” Lanning said earlier this week.
Things have worked out pretty well for the Wildcats, who added Cowing from the transfer portal this offseason.
But the Ducks aren’t exactly lacking in the receiver department either.
Troy Franklin is emerging, with 391 yards and some big-time plays in recent weeks. Chase Cota has been a reliable target for quarterback Bo Nix. Oregon’s offense — though not as prolific through the air as Arizona’s — has been as efficient as any in the country at moving the football through the first half of the season.
“I think we have some really good schemes and when we run it how it’s meant to be run to perfection, it’s really hard to stop,” Nix said this week. “Our coaches do a great job of putting guys in situations of what they’re good at.”
Not that either defensive coordinator is looking for a shootout this weekend, but the game has that kind of potential.
“They have really, really talented wideouts, but I think this quarterback really can play well,” Lanning said of Arizona’s Jayden de Laura. “He throws lasers. He throws the ball on rhythm, on a dart, and he doesn’t need a big window to be able to attack. He’s able to extend plays with his feet. This is a really good challenge for us.
“There haven’t been a lot of teams that have really slowed them down offensively. They’ve only maybe hurt themselves a couple of times, to be honest. They’ve done a really good job. They get the ball downfield. They take long shots, so this’ll be a really good challenge.”
De Laura is coming off a game wherein he tied the Arizona program record for passing touchdowns in a game. He threw for a career-high 484 yards and six scores. Arizona lit up Colorado. (a bad Colorado team, but still a strong performance.) Cowing and Singer both topped 160 receiving yards. The 6-foot-5 McMillan had 90 and a score. Arizona has guys who can hurt defenses in a number of ways and a quarterback who has budding chemistry with each.
“They’ve got playmakers all over the field,” said Oregon safety Bennett Williams. “We’ve got to stay with those receivers once he gets out of the pocket whether it’s two seconds or 10 seconds while he’s running around back there we’ve got to stay with our receivers and limit those big plays.”
Limiting the deep ball is a major talking point for Oregon’s defense this week.
“It’s a big challenge,” said Ducks corner Christian Gonzalez. “I’m super excited to see how we’re going to handle it.”
Gonzalez is an interesting character in the upcoming show. His length (6-foot-2) and his physicality have caused problems for other receivers. Lanning isn’t big on running corners back and forth across the formation to play matchups pre-snap — he thinks it’s not the best use of energy — so where do they try and deploy Gonzalez against the Cats?
Given the depth at receiver, Arizona could theoretically find and pick on whatever matchup it likes without getting too outside of itself.
“We know that with these defenders (at Oregon) they’re going to be physical,” Fisch said this week. “They’re going to be very well coached, they’re tough.”
Said Lanning: “Outside they have size and they make contested catches. If the quarterback can put it close, they have a great chance of winning on 50-50 balls. For them, I don’t know if you call them 50-50 balls, it’s more like 70-30 because they come down with it a lot of time.”
Oregon has some of that, too. Franklin has been the deep-ball guy. He’s the only player in the conference with multiple 50-yard catches this season. One of them directly won Oregon a game.
“We’re excited to get down to Tucson and attack them,” Lanning said Monday.
And those of us with access to the Pac-12 Network are excited to watch.