Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez helped devise the hurry-up spread offense nearly 25 years ago. Then coach Chip Kelly made Oregon famous for it.
These days, current Ducks coach Mark Helfrich acknowledges the offensive similarities between Oregon and Arizona, calling them cousins.
"I don't know what kind of cousin," Helfrich joked about his analogy. "Route structure is a little different off it, how they use their quarterback. But a run-based, spread offense, being able to throw the ball, mix those things up, but yeah, it's very similar."
The two similar schemes will meet — again — on Friday night when the No. 3 Ducks (11-1, 8-1) play the No. 8 Wildcats (10-2, 7-2) in the Pac-12 championship.
Rodriguez, named this season's Pac-12 Coach of the Year, also zeroed in on the familiarity factor.
"Philosophically, they look very, very similar, not only the tempo with which they're able to go at, but how they want to attack the field from vertical and horizontal standpoints," Rodriguez told reporters on a teleconference earlier this week. "You'd think these two coaches are related."
As head coach at Glenville State in West Virginia in 1990, Rodriguez wanted to run a spread formation but he had a quarterback who was on the smallish side — so he went to a run-based system out of the shotgun. To keep defenses even more off-balance, he decided to run the offense without ever huddling.
Rodriguez eventually brought his innovative offense to West Virginia, turning a team that won three games his first season into a national contender.
Fast forward to 2007, when Oregon coach Mike Bellotti hired Kelly as his offensive coordinator. Kelly put a hurry-up, no-huddle spread option on hyperdrive that thrived with a mobile quarterback, Dennis Dixon. By 2008, the Ducks were averaging nearly 42 points and 485 yards of total offense per game.
In 2010, with Kelly as head coach, the Ducks led the nation with averages of 47 points and 531 total yards per game. The revved-up offenses left opponents so gassed they were known to fake injuries to get a breather.
Helfrich, who was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Kelly, took over as head coach in 2013 when Kelly went to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Led by mobile Heisman-hopeful quarterback Marcus Mariota, Oregon is ranked atop the conference this year for the eighth-straight season with an average of nearly 46 points per game. The Ducks average 539.5 yards in total offense, also first in the league. Arizona is ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in both categories, with 36.7 points and 481.2 total yards per game.
Some have said that Rodriguez's knowledge of the offense — he helped invent it, after all — is why the Wildcats have had success over the Ducks in their past two meetings.
Arizona visited Eugene in early October and came away with a 31-24 victory. It was the lowest point output for the high-flying Ducks this season.
Arizona held the Ducks to 144 yards rushing and linebacker Scooby Wright sealed it when he sacked Mariota and stripped him of the ball for a rare turnover to stuff Oregon's final drive.
Last season when Oregon visited Tucson, Mariota was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage and it went downhill for the Ducks from there in a 42-16 loss. It was Oregon's second loss of the season, knocking the Ducks out of both the Pac-12 championship and snapping a streak of four straight BCS bowl bids.
With just the one loss to Arizona this season, Oregon is No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings. With a victory on Friday, the Ducks will undoubtedly have one of the four spots in the first playoffs.
Arizona, which vaulted this week to No. 7 in the CFP rankings, earned its spot by winning the tight Pac-12 South, after UCLA lost to Stanford and the Wildcats defeated Arizona State in the final week of the regular season.
Earlier this week, Rodriguez suggested that in the end, it might not matter which offense is better. It may come down to the defenses.
"I like to play teams that aren't very good, but when you play this game you are going to play someone really good," he said. "The thing about Oregon is that we are very similar philosophically offensively. They are going to play fast, and their defense and our defense is used to seeing it."