Upset of No. 2 Oregon validates struggling UA football

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                </div>  Seven days.  That’s all it took to completely turn the tables on the Pac-12 football landscape in Arizona. Arizona State, which had been humming along winning its first three […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Seven days.  That’s all it took to completely turn the tables on the Pac-12 football landscape in Arizona.

Arizona State, which had been humming along winning its first three games in solid fashion, had a humiliating defeat a week ago in a 62-27 loss to UCLA.  And University of Arizona, which had also won all three but struggled to do it, just stunned the college football world by knocking off the No. 2 Oregon Ducks last night.

The Wildcats suddenly find themselves in the penthouse and their in-state rivals were dispatched to the dog house.

To make matters worse for ASU, the Sun Devils will have to go a second straight game with their back-up quarterback, Mike Bercovici, as they take on the 16th-ranked team in the country, the USC Trojans.

And tomorrow’s game is on the road.  The Devils can’t catch a break.

ASU has dropped from the national rankings in one poll and sits at No. 24 in the other two – after entering the UCLA game ranked No. 15.  Arizona, currently unranked, should move into the top 25 in the next poll.

Perhaps the moral to this story is that being unranked means little to define the capabilities of the Wildcats.  They were unranked last year as well when they stunned Oregon the first time, beating the Ducks by 26 points.

So right now the buzz is all about the Arizona Wildcats, the giant-killers.  And for good reason.

After going into the locker room at halftime trailing 7-3, Arizona erupted by scoring on the first three possessions of the second half, outscoring the normally high-powered Ducks 21-7 in the third quarter to build the momentum that would sustain them through the final 15 minutes for the stunning 31-24 win.

Talk about your halftime adjustments!  Those adjustments going into the second half are most often the difference in the outcome of a closely-contested game.  But Arizona head coach, Rich Rodriguez, says it wasn’t adjustments that made the different.  Just the opposite, in fact.

“There was no panic at halftime and we didn’t change our play-calling,” he told the media after the game.  “We just executed better.

“There’s a tendency sometimes when you’re not scoring points to just abandon everything and move on.  We  felt we knew what we were doing and what they were doing.  We just had to execute better.”

The 21 points the Wildcats scored in the third quarter was a significant achievement against a team that had allowed a total of three third-quarter points so far this season.

Freshman running back Nick Wilson started the Arizona avalanche in the second half by carrying the ball the final three yards of an 80-yard drive just a couple of minutes into the third quarter.  Then he plunged in from the two for a second consecutive TD, and capped the three-touchdown effort by pulling in a 34-yard pass from Anu Solomon to put the Cats up 24-14 with 3:11 left in the quarter.

Oregon tied it up with a little more than eight minutes left to play, but Arizona wasn’t done yet.   Terris Jones-Grigsby, the Cats’ other prolific running back, pounded out the final yard of a touchdown drive that took the clock down to 2:54.

And then the defense put the lid on the win when Scooby Wright III sacked Marcus Mariota, the Ducks’ Heisman candidate favorite, and forced a fumble that gave the Cats the ball and the ability to run out the clock.

That was one of five sacks the Arizona defense racked up in the game as Oregon tried to keep them out of their backfield without three starting linemen who were out with injuries.  The Cats kept the pressure on from start to finish and it paid off.

But it was the second half that will be etched in the minds of the Arizona players and fans.  Twenty of the Cats’ 29 first downs came in the second half, and they converted seven of nine third-down opportunities.  They scored 21 points and piled up 253 yards in just the first 12 minutes of the second half.

Rodriguez kept running Jones-Grigsby and Wilson in and out of the game, keeping a fresh pair of legs on the field all the way through to the final play.  Due to injuries, it was the first time this season he had both backs healthy at the same time and they responded by combining for 207 yards of rushing offense and four touchdowns.  Jones-Grigsby, a fifth-year senior, finished with 210 all-purpose yards, 115 on the ground on 27 carries, and Wilson just missed the century mark rushing with 92 yards on 13 carries.

Solomon, a redshirt freshman, completed 20 of his 31 pass attempts for 287 yards, connecting with nine different receivers.

“I hope (the win) is a shot of confidence that we can play with a really good team,” says Rodriguez.  “We still have a lot of things to clean up that could have cost us the game.”

Since they played on Thursday this week, it will give them a few extra days to work on the cleaning-up project before taking on USC at home on Oct. 11.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)