EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 22: Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Oregon Ducks leaps over Jonathan McKnight #6 of the Arizona Wildcats on September 22, 2012 at the Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
If you believe that the athletes' minds aren't as fragile as that of one former Arizona placekicker, then the Arizona Wildcats' 49-0 loss to the Oregon Ducks is now the most positive blowout in the history of football -- or perhaps sport. Rich Rodriguez's team got shown the hell out the door in Autzen Stadium on Saturday, yet a view from the UA perspective is still full of hope.
This wasn't getting rolled over by a team before pulling the starters in the second quarter. It was a game for two and a half quarters put together by a Wildcats team that was reminded there's a long way to go.
Few times do you get confused about whether or not to be impressed with a football team. It's either a a simple good, simple bad or simple lucky or unlucky type of deal. But in a unique situation on Saturday, with a rebuilding team against one ranked No. 3 in the country, the argument for such a perplexing view of Arizona's range of success remained true.
The Wildcats' defense looked capable of matching Oregon's offensive speed at the start and throughout, forcing a four-and-out on the first Ducks' possession as Oregon went for it on fourth down. They only allowed 489 yards -- "only" is relative with UO -- and a 9-of-19 third down conversion rate while forcing three turnovers.
But we'll get to the positive a bit later.
The more concerning factor in UA's loss was about mistakes and missed opportunities. We knew coming in Arizona would need more possessions. The fantastic defensive effort gave Rodriguez's team just that, and that's why it was so painful; a bad-looking loss was actually a far cry from Oregon's domination that showed at the scoreboard by game's end.
The red zone offense was 0-for-6 in scoring not just a touchdown, but any points at all.
On UA's second possession, Arizona stalled in the red zone again, and Kyle Dugandzic bobbled the hold on a field goal try, giving the Wildcats nothing for their fantastic field position.
UA forced a turnover on the next Oregon touch, as a scurrying Mariota was drilled by Marquis Flowers to pop the ball loose (called it, sorta). The offense, however, failed to score on that possession as well, as Scott threw an interception on the Ducks' 12 yard line.
The Ducks made due, driving 88 yards for a touchdown pass from Mariota to Daryle Hawkins put UO up 7-0.
Arizona looked as if they'd respond, driving 71 yards to the 2-yard line before a 4th-and-goal ended with Scott being stopped behind the line of scrimmage. The red zone offense had failed again. Much of that throughout the night could be credited to Oregon's defense, especially a defensive line that smothered the run game.
Ka'Deem Carey led the Wildcats wit 21 carries for 76 yards as UA produced 84 total rushing yards on Saturday.
But the Wildcats' ineptness in the following offensi had something to do with it as well. Three Scott interceptions that went where no UA receivers were standing, ugly incompletions to open receivers, dropped passes and then a failure of the UA offensive line to open running lanes killed UA's offensive flow that looked capable enough when the Wildcats didn't shoot themselves in the foot.
UA pushed to the Oregon 30 on their next possession after forcing a Thomas fumble, but a Bonano field goal was blocked on a kick appearing to be, simply, low. From there, Johnny Jackson fumbled while trying to leap a defender, and Oregon tacked two more field goals onto the score before halftime.
The Arizona defense held well into the third quarter, and Thomas' longest play at one point went only for a meager 10 yards. A combined five punts by the two teams began the second half -- so much for the offensive back-and-forth -- but the final one, by UA, was sent to the man you don't want to touch the ball. Fittingly, Thomas' presence dictated not just the result of the game, but the point at which the Ducks took total control.
Thomas returned the punt 38 yards to put the ball on the Arizona 37, and Mariota hit Colt Lyerla for a pass that ended on the 2-yard line before Oregon punched it in, then scored a 2-point conversion for a 21-0 advantage. That's when the flood gates got cranked up, ready to open.
Scott's second interception, another in the red zone, resulted in the kicker. A 53-yard pass to Bralon Addison scored another touchdown to put the Ducks ahead 28-0. Scott only showed worse with a pick-six to give UO a 35-0 lead, and now you wonder how the senior quarterback will mentally recover.
Oregon scored twice more -- once off a pick-six thrown by B.J. Denker -- before the route was done with.
Scott ended completing just 22-of-44 passes for 195 yards and three interceptions.
The positives? Arizona's defense held strong for a while, if not most of the game. Take away big plays in the second half that I'd put more to momentum and fantastic play-calling by Kelly more than their own faults. Give the Wildcats' offense two earlier scores, take away Scott's turnovers and the resulting Oregon touches, and this would've been a game. And because of that, Jeff Casteel's crew did everything and then some to give UA a chance to win.
They made tackles they should have -- by themselves against the speedy and slippery Ducks. They hit hard. They forced a freshman quarterback into two turnovers after the fumble Jonathan McKnight picked his third pass of the season when UO was up 21-0.
Somehow, despite a 49-0 blowout, the Wildcats made Oregon look very, very mortal.
So at the end of the game, the feeling is much of the same that we experience throughout the entire ordeal. There's much room for optimism considering the defense knows its stuff and is playing with what can only be described as a controlled fire. On the other hand, the offense's moxie will be tested after mistakes diluted the talent we know is there.
Recovery against Oregon State next week from a dismal outing just might be what the season is riding upon.
Do you agree?