You could feel the magic on the first play from scrimmage. Arizona’s senior cornerback Shaquille Richardson came sailing through the air to snag what should have been an incomplete pass floating harmlessly beyond the sidelines and tossed the ball back to teammate Scooby Wright, who was standing in-bounds, to record the first interception of the season for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Nine plays later, Ka’Deem Carey capped a 45-yard drive by bulling through tacklers for a six-yard TD and the Wildcats went on from there to record a 42-16 win that quickly silenced the skeptics that were expecting an Oregon walk-over.
By keeping the magic alive through four quarters to pull off the shocking upset of the No. 5-ranked Ducks, the Cats (7-4, 4-4) essentially ended any aspirations Oregon (9-2, 6-2) had to play this season for a national championship – and heightened expectations for next week’s meeting with No. 19 Arizona State (9-2, 7-1), which is coming off a huge 38-33 win over No. 14 UCLA.
The 45,777 fans at Arizona Stadium yesterday afternoon were not only treated to the first victory over a top-five opponent since 2007 (when they beat then-No. 2 Oregon), but will also be able to tell their friends they were there when Carey set the new school record for career rushing yards and career touchdowns.
The junior running back from Canyon del Oro High School, who finished last season as the nation’s top rusher, ran for 208 yards against Oregon to reach 3,915 career yards and pass up the old mark of 3,824 set by Trung Canidate back in 1999. It was the 20 yards he picked on a third-quarter run that put him over the top.
And his four touchdowns brought his career total to 49 to set another record by notching one more than Art Luppino accumulated in his UofA career more than 50 years ago.
Carey was a work horse in every sense of the word. He carried the ball 48 times, pounding away at the Ducks’ defense and picking up real estate in small, but devastating, chunks. He didn’t have a carry that was longer than 20 yards and his four scores came on rushes of six, one, nine, and two yards.
It was an incredible performance, perhaps his last in Arizona Stadium. He hasn’t addressed the burning issue of whether he will return for his senior season, but head coach Rich Rodriguez has made it clear that his star running back should wait until the season’s over and assess how high he might go in the next NFL draft.
However Rodriguez knows he won’t have one key element back from this season’s team. Senior quarterback B.J. Denker accounted for 208 yards in the Oregon upset, passing for 178 and rushing for another 102, a third of Arizona’s total 304 yards of offense on the ground.
Mariota threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns for the Ducks, but was intercepted twice – his only picks all season. His 306 yards of total offense gives him 7,085 to make him just the fifth player in school history to pass the 7,000-yard career mark.
His two interceptions, on the first and last plays of the game, were just a part of the three turnovers the Ducks had to overcome against the Cats. And the defense just couldn’t contain the high-octane, hurry-up Arizona offense. The Cats’ 304 rushing yards were the most allowed by the Ducks this season and the 26-point margin in the score was the worst since a 34-point loss to USC back in 2008.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s defense limited Oregon to a 6-for-12 performance on third-down conversion attempts and 1-for-3 on fourth-down attempts, and held the Ducks to their lowest point total of the season and lowest since a 14-17 loss to Stanford in November of 2012.
The Cats were unstoppable once they got into the red zone, scoring six touchdowns on six drives from inside the twenty. But the Ducks managed just a field goal and two scores on five drives in the red zone.
Arizona played a great game, but the Cats also caught the perfect storm on a day when Oregon really wasn’t Oregon.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)