Who are these guys?!
The winless University of Arizona football team that lost to FCS opponent Northern Arizona University in Week 3, the first time a Wildcat team has lost to NAU since 1932, just gave the No. 3 team in the nation a good scare. Go figure.
The Wildcats still haven’t won a game after four tries, but what fans witnessed Saturday night gave them a glimmer of hope for the remainder of the season. When the fourth quarter began, Arizona was within a single score of a major upset over the Mighty Ducks.
Down 24-10 at the half, the Cats scored nine unanswered points in the third quarter, thanks to a safety from their defense and Drake Anderson‘s one-yard TD plunge. The Cats appeared to be in complete control of the game at that point. Arizona ran 27 plays in the third quarter, while the Ducks ran eight.
Anderson finished with a team-high 72 yards rushing, followed by quarterback Jordan McCloud‘s 67 yards. McCloud, in his first start of the season, was 21-of-35 passing for 233 yards — but he was intercepted five times.
The crowd of 50,024 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene grew eerily quiet during that 15-minute stretch after halftime. Perhaps they were having flashbacks to when the Wildcats upset the No. 19 Ducks in an embarrassing rout, 44-15, just three years ago. Or maybe the stunning upset of Oregon in 2014, when the Ducks were ranked No. 2.
Unfortunately for the visitors from the desert, their host quickly put fan fears to rest as the fourth quarter began to see a turnaround, starting with a Camden Lewis 43-yard field goal less than two minutes into the period.
An 18-yard TD pass from Ducks’ quarterback Anthony Brown to Spencer Webb with 8:26 left to play essentially put the game out of reach and the Ducks rolled the rest of the way to a 41-19 victory in the Pac-12 opener.
Oregon went into the game as a four-touchdown favorite over a team that was winless in its first three games. But, for the first three quarters, it was hard to tell why the Cats were such a heavy underdog.
When the dust cleared and the stats were added up, Arizona wound up on the plus side of most of them. The Wildcats piled up more yards passing (233-206), rushing (202-187), and total yards (435-293). Arizona almost doubled the number of Oregon’s first downs, 31-17, and dominated the time of possession by slightly better than 15 minutes, using long drives to keep the Oregon offense off the field.
At 16 games, the Cats’ losing streak is the longest among the nation’s FBS teams. That’s a hard number to swallow for Arizona Nation.
First-year head coach Jedd Fisch owns just the last four of those losses. But the fact that he has been unable to break the string yet has the fan base finding it difficult to keep the faith. If the current trend continues, this will make it six years in a row without a winning record.
But for three quarters Saturday night, on the road in one of the most difficult stadiums in which to play, the Wildcats showed they just might have what it takes to turn things around.
Plenty of time to get it done. Seven more games before they meet rival Arizona State in the regular-season finale on Nov. 27. A win in that game would help make up for whatever doesn’t get accomplished up until then.
It won’t be hard to improve over last year’s humiliating 7-70 loss to the Sun Devils.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)