The Wildcats fall to 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the Pac-12. The Ducks improve to 6-5 and 3-5, respectively.
Herbert, who had missed six games with a broken collarbone, finished 14-21 for 235 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, and also scrambled for a 40-yard touchdown.
Oregon running back Royce Freeman, who had not scored in Herbert’s absence, scored four times and rushed for 135 yards on 19 carries. Backup Tony Brooks-James had 19 carries for 124 yards, as the Wildcats’ defense was continually gashed on the ground.
The Ducks ran for 353 yards on 50 carries and outgained Arizona, 588-330. Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ offense lacked its usual explosion, as its longest play was a 20-yard touchdown run by Nick Wilson.
Khalil Tate had his worst game since taking over as Arizona’s starting quarterback.
The sophomore was 18-35 for 159 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions through the air, and was unable to get anything going on the ground, rushing for just 32 yards on 14 attempts — easily his lowest output of the season.
Tate didn’t get much help from his receivers who dropped four passes. He also appeared to tweak his left leg on a third-quarter run which limited his mobility in the second half.
Arizona’s bright spot on offense was its running backs.
Wilson had 17 carries for 73 yards and two touchdowns, while J.J. Taylor had 10 carries for 55 yards.
Oregon averaged 8.3 yards per play, and if not for 12 penalties which helped extend a few of UA’s drives, the final margin might have been greater.
Arizona led two different times in the first half, but were outscored 20-7 in the final two quarters.
The Wildcats started the game well, getting a stop to open the game then methodically driving 83 yards on 11 plays on their first drive, capped with an 18-yard TD run by Wilson to take a 7-0 lead. Tate connected on several short, quick play-action passes on the drive.
Oregon answered with its own TD on Herbert’s 40-yard TD scamper.
Arizona’s ensuing drive was halted after a pair of drops by Shun Brown and Tony Ellison, and a short punt allowed Oregon to start its drive in UA territory (more on those punting woes later). Freeman would score his first touchdown since Sept. 23 — a four-yard plunge — to give the Ducks a 14-7 lead.
On Oregon’s next drive, Dane Cruikshank took a Herbert overthrow to the house, but the touchdown was waved off after the UA defensive back wagged his finger at an Oregon player before crossing the goal line. Arizona would take over at the Oregon 19 yard line instead, and Tate would find Ellison on a rollout for a 15-yard touchdown to knot the game at 14.
Ellison had a team-high six catches for 52 yards.
Wilson’s 20-yard touchdown put Arizona up 21-14 with 9:08 left in the second, but Herbert connected with Jacob Breeland over the top of UA’s secondary for a 38-yard TD to tie the game, then Oregon went 88 yards in just five plays on its next drive to take a 28-21 lead.
Tate was intercepted at the UA 32 shortly after, but a couple penalties prevented the Ducks from increasing their lead before heading to the locker room.
Freeman kicked off the second half scoring with an 11-yard touchdown run, which was matched by a short Zach Green touchdown to cut Oregon’s lead to 35-28 with 3:47 left in the third.
A 40-yard field goal by Aidan Schneider put the Ducks up 38-28 with 14:54 left, then a 40-yard connection between Herbert and Johnny Johnson on an end-around flea flicker set up a one-yard touchdown for Freeman to extend Oregon’s lead to 45-28 early in the fourth.
Schneider added a 24-yard field goal with roughly eight minutes left in regulation. Arizona’s offense only mustered 157 yards in the second half and Tate was intercepted for a second time with 23 seconds left in the game.
Though Arizona’s defense struggled mightily as a unit, a concerning trend, its freshmen continue to stand out.
Linebacker Colin Schooler had a game-high 12 tackles (three for loss), while linebacker Tony Fields II and safety Scottie Young Jr. had eight and seven tackles, respectively. Linebacker Kylan Wilborn tallied his team-high seventh sack of the season.
Arizona will wrap up the regular season with the Territorial Cup next Saturday against the Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe at 2:30 p.m. MST.
The Wildcats have now lost two of their last three games, falling back to earth after Tate led the team on a four-game winning streak in October.
Defensive line depth ravaged
Arizona defensive tackle Parker Zellers did not travel to Eugene after violating team rules, so the Wildcats were already short-handed up front entering the game.
Then d-linemen Justin Belknap, Dereck Boles, and Luca Bruno all exited with injuries, compounding the issue.
While it is unclear how severe the injuries are, it’s a menacing development for the Wildcats’ defense moving forward.
Arizona’s punting was awful
Arizona’s punting was downright embarrassing Saturday. Its best punt of the night was courtesy of tight end Trevor Wood whose 36-yard punt was downed at the six-yard line.
Josh Pollack punted four times for 132 yards — a paltry 33 yards per kick — and Jake Glatting’s lone punt went 19 yards off the side of his foot.
Also, Rich Rodriguez’s decision to punt while down 17 with 11:47 left in the fourth was equally cringeworthy.
There isn’t an obvious solution to Arizona’s punting woes, but it might as well see what Gerhard de Beer can do. Rodriguez said the offensive lineman “might have the best leg on the team.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire