When Oregon forced a fumble on the first possession of last night’s Pac-12 Football Championship game with the Arizona Wildcats, you had to worry if it was a sign of things to come. Unfortunately for UofA fans, it was.
The Ducks converted the early turnover into its second field goal of the game to go up 6-0, and things continued to go south from there.
How far south, you ask?
No. 7 Arizona managed just 25 total yards in the first half, and minus-9 yards rushing as No. 2 Oregon rolled to a 23-0 lead by halftime. The last time the Cats were held scoreless at the half was two years ago – and it was also against Oregon.
Going into the game, Arizona’s game plan was to try to keep Oregon’s high-octane offense off the field as much as possible. But the Ducks wasted no time in turning the Cats’ game plan into one of their own. The Arizona defense was on the field for 57 plays in the first half and began to visibly wilt before they could get to intermission.
And on the other end, Oregon’s defensive line dominated from start to finish and Arizona’s redshirt freshman Anu Solomon was never able to get his team’s vaunted quick-strike offense on track or into a rhythm. He completed just six of 12 pass attempts for an anemic 34 yards before being replaced at intermission by the back-up transfer, Jesse Scroggins.
As the second half opened, Oregon pushed the lead to 30-0 before the Wildcats were able to get on the board, thanks to a blown defensive assignment that left Cayleb Jones alone in the Oregon secondary. Scroggins dropped a long lob in his lap and he scampered into the end zone for a 69-yard touchdown.
But by the mid-point of the third quarter, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota had accounted for five touchdowns to set a new Pac-12 Championship record and the Ducks pulled away to a 44-7 lead and it was pretty much all over at that point.
Mariota, a redshirt junior, didn’t stay in the game for the mop-up work, but still finished the night with 336 total yards of offense to push his career total over the 12,000-yard mark. His five touchdowns included three rushing TDs in a single game, the first time he has done that in his career, and his 303 yards passing put him over the 10,000-yard mark for his career to re-set the record he already held. His work last night certainly helped his chances at winning this year’s Heisman Trophy, since he is generally considered the favorite to lock up the award.
Arizona’s only other score came on the very last play of the game when Jerrard Randall ran around the right end and coasted in for a 25-yard score as time expired against a defense that had pretty much packed it in and were ready to begin the celebration that included the traditional Gatorade shower for second-year head coach, Mark Helfrich.
The final numbers on the scoreboard in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif… Oregon 51, Arizona 13.
Arizona still walks away with a 10-3 record, although their No. 7 ranking will drop like a rock. But the Cats should be a good catch for one of the major bowls, possibly even Arizona’s own Fiesta Bowl.
However, the way this team played in a game that certainly should have been just important as any bowl game, may have given some bowl selection committees second thoughts.
A 38-point beat-down on national television has to raise some questions about whether this team would provide the kind of excitement, and level of competition, that every bowl committee hopes for when they extend an invitation. The team was listless throughout the first half and looked like a JV team trying to score against the varsity. They were unable to put points on the board throughout the game against a well-prepared Oregon defense and could convert just three of 15 third-down conversions. A team that normally gains over 500 yards a game was held to just 224 last night; the Ducks gained 640.
Yes, the Cats beat Oregon earlier in the season, the only team to take the ducks down in 13 games. But that just magnifies the obvious question…
Which is the Arizona team that will show up for a big bowl game?
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)