Coming off a bye and riding a four-game losing streak, in which they had allowed 189 points, nearly all the speculation with the Arizona Wildcats centered around how badly their embattled defense would fare against a juggernaut Oregon team hoping to make a playoff statement.
Instead it was Arizona’s offense that played its worst game of the season in a 34-6 road loss to the sixth-ranked Ducks on Saturday night.
The Wildcats (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12) had season lows in points and yards, gaining only 240 yards as the combination of a patchwork offensive line, drive-killing penalties and an early quarterback change produced a listless effort from the side of the ball that normally had been Arizona’s more consistent this fall.
It was the first time Arizona failed to score a TD since a 49-3 loss at Washington in October 2015.
Oregon (9-1, 7-0) gained 471 yards, with Justin Herbert throwing for 333 yards and four touchdowns, but 183 came on those TD passes including a 73-yarder on the second play of the game. The Wildcats forced the Ducks to punt four times, twice as many times as they did in a 56-24 win at USC in their last game, notched three sacks and Scottie Young Jr. had a red zone interception in the third quarter.
Grant Gunnell started but only lasted three series before Khalil Tate took over, though neither had much time to operate—nor did J.J. Taylor have any room to run—behind an offensive line missing two starters and with three guys making their first career start.
Tate was 7 of 16 for 50 yards, while Gunnell was 10 of 14 for 82 yards but only 28 yards came outside of fourth-quarter garbage time, with Oregon sacking the duo a combined six times. Taylor ran for 74 yards and caught six passes for 55 yards, finishing with 223 all-purpose yards including a 48-yard kickoff return.
Arizona committed eight penalties, four in the first quarter, each flag frustrating in its own way. The Wildcats were called for a false start prior to their first offensive snap—something they also did on the first play of the second half—then the defense was called for an illegal substitution when it had 12 men in formation coming out of an injury timeout (only to send two off the field after the flag).
Center Steven Bailey, making his first career start in place of the injured Josh McCauley, was later called for a personal foul after knocking an Oregon player off Taylor after he’d been tackled on a run play, and on the same drive the Wildcats were flagged for having two receivers in motion at the same time.
Yet Arizona only trailed 21-6 at halftime and had the ball to start the third quarter. But the Wildcats went three-and-out on that first drive, the first of four straight punts to open the second half. Oregon padded its lead with Herbert TD passes of 24 to Spencer Webb midway through the third quarter and a 33-yard catch and run by running back Travis Dye with 10:02 left in the fourth.
Two plays into the game it looked like the Ducks were going to light up the scoreboard, with Herbert finding Johnny Johnson III for a 73-yard TD pass.
Oregon made it 14-0 with 1:57 left in the first quarter on a 1-yard TD run by Cyrus Habibi-Likio, capping a 13-play drive in which the Ducks converted three times on third down.
A near-interception in the end zone by Christian Roland-Wallace and two run stuffs forced Oregon to try a 20-yard field goal on its third drive, which it missed, marking only the third time this season Arizona had held its opponent off the scoreboard in the red zone.
The Wildcats couldn’t take advantage of that stop, though, punting once again. Oregon then went up 21-0 on a 53-yard TD pass from Herbert to Juwan Johnson on a flea flicker, finishing off a drive in which it converted on third-and-long twice.
Arizona finally got on the board with 2:56 left in the first half on a 23-yard field goal by Lucas Havrisik, but that score was a letdown after the Wildcats so quickly got into Oregon’s red zone. Taylor followed up a 48-yard kickoff return with a 13-yard catch and 17 yards on the ground to get Arizona inside the Ducks’ 10 only to see that followed by two incomplete passes and a short completion over the middle on third and goal.
After forcing Oregon to punt, Havrisik hit from 42 yards out on the final play of the second quarter to get Arizona within 21-6.
Things don’t get any easier for Arizona, which plays its home finale Nov. 23 against Utah. The eighth-ranked Utes (9-1, 6-1) cruised to a 49-3 home win over UCLA on Saturday night.
The Wildcats will need to win their final two games, including the Nov. 30 Territorial Cup at ASU, to become bowl-eligible.