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3 up, 3 down from Arizona’s loss at Oregon

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Another Saturday, another loss for the Wildcats

Arizona v Oregon Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Probably 99 percent of people out there would’ve picked the Arizona Wildcats to lose the Oregon Ducks this Saturday. Those 99 percent of people proved to be pretty smart. The Ducks had control the entire time as they methodically worked towards a 34-6 victory.

Considering how good Oregon is and how inconsistent Arizona has been, the Wildcats actually managed to put up some kind of fight. They never threatened Oregon at all, but they managed to do a few good things in the meantime.

Here are three positive takeaways and three negative takeaways from the loss, which drops Arizona to 4-6 overall and 2-5 in the Pac-12.

Up: Improved special teams play

When a team is just thoroughly outclassed, and both teams know it, the main goal for the worse team is to lock down the minor issues and try and have them fixed for the next close game. The Wildcats were pretty clearly doing this in Eugene, and they managed to look good on special teams for the first time all year.

Arizona’s return unit has probably been the worst in the Pac-12 this year, and not due to lack of explosiveness. They have made basic mistakes time after time, and its been very frustrating. Now, it’s clear that the ‘Cats are learning. J.J. Taylor looked like himself returning kicks, including a 47-yarder.

Jamarye Joiner was careful on punt returns, and while he didn’t make any plays, he didn’t make mistakes either. The one frustrating moment in the punt game was the failure to recover a muffed punt by Oregon that could have given Arizona a tiny sliver of hope.

On top of that, Lucas Havrisik was accurate and managed the teams’ only points. Two short field goals aren’t groundbreaking, but progress is progress. As usual, he booted every kickoff he could through the end zone. Freshman Kyle Ostendorp still needs to work on his punting, but he’s also a freshman at the position Arizona has struggled at the most.

Will this magically turn Arizona’s season into a success? Absolutely not. Learning is still learning, and the Wildcats will need to keep these special teams lessons in mind in 2020.

Down: Both quarterbacks not doing well

At first, it was nice knowing that both Khalil Tate and Grant Gunnell would be seeing the field in the final three games of the year. It’s fair to say that Oregon is trillions times better than Arizona, but this kind of performance is not a good sign from both of them.

The best way I could sum up the passing attack is to just talk about Gunnell’s stats. He went 10 for 14 for 82 yards. Keep in mind, that was the BETTER of the two quarterback performances. Khalil Tate played most of the middle of the game and led the two scoring drives, but did almost all of his damage on the ground, going only 7-for-16 for 50 yards through the air.

With almost no healthy starters on the offensive line and going up against a really strong defense, I can’t complain too much about either performance, especially considering next year’s starter actually looked decent (if you squinted) in the pocket. The big theme of this game is that any event that didn’t hurt the Wildcats’ future was a win.

Up: A solid defensive effort

It may seem weird to talk about solid defense from a unit that gave up five touchdowns, including a long pass on its second play of the game. Oregon did have to actually try and score points though, and that is an absolute win.

I mentioned in my score prediction this week that I thought this game would be lower scoring than most believed. I still overshot the score, and that’s because I simply assumed Oregon would slowly march up and down the field at will. Instead, the Ducks had multiple failed drives, and actually relied on big plays.

All but one of Oregon’s scores came on Herbert passes of over 20 yards, and two of the touchdowns were from Oregon’s own side of the field. After that ugly blown coverage to start the game, Arizona did a solid job slowing down the Ducks, holding them to 7.0 yards per game.

Even on a 53-yard trick play, Arizona actually had pretty good coverage and Herbert needed a perfect throw to get the score.

I think this was what Arizona did best over the bye week. The offense struggled, but the defense tread water, and I think Chuck Cecil is doing his best to turn around this unit as fast as possible.

Down: Anemic running game

Arizona’s passing game was definitely the worse of the two offensive units, but the running game didn’t look much better. This is another direct result of the injuries on the offensive line, but it’s still a bad game for the rushing attack, which managed 132 yards on 35 carries (not including sacks).

The one good thing here is that Tate looked solid on the ground. He’s working on that nasty habit of running out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage, and his designed runs looked pretty solid. He broke the longest run of the game for the Wildcats, a 21-yarder.

Outside of him and the occasional big run from J.J. Taylor, there was little to write home about. Gary Brightwell was pretty good, but only touched the ball four times. Other than that, Bam Smith and Michael Wiley both got one unsuccessful carry, and Grant Gunnell was eaten alive by the Oregon D-line.

Again, this isn’t anybody’s fault per se. The offensive line is just a crippling weakness right now and Oregon is vastly superior. Still not good though.

Up: No more major injuries

This is both the greatest thing that could have happened for Arizona against Oregon, and it’s also a sign of what kind of season this has become. Here we are, celebrating a game with few injuries.

If you ask me, I think Arizona was fine going to Eugene and putting in 60 minutes so long as they didn’t get anybody hurt. That’s totally fine! It would’ve been great if Arizona could have won this game, but that basically went out the window with the 73-yard touchdown. So the Wildcats were relatively conservative while still putting in some effort. The Ducks didn’t go too crazy once they had the lead, and Arizona returned to Tucson with the loss.

Any game where Arizona doesn’t add to the list of injured players, particularly on the offensive line, is fine, regardless of result. Arizona is returning roughly 90 percent of their starters as of now, and that number can go down for plenty of reasons. Injuries are one of them, and avoiding them is fine.

Down: Penalties still an issue

I started this article talking about how fixing minor issues was the key goal in this game, along with avoiding injuries. The one issue they didn’t fix was this team’s penchant for penalties.

The poster-child penalty of the night was probably the offsetting unsportsmanlike that Drew Dixon got along with an Oregon player. On second and goal, an Oregon player threw a punch at Dixon. It initially looked like cooler heads would prevail and UA would get a first down, but Dixon threw one quick punch back, and it resulted in offsetting penalties.

It otherwise could have led to a touchdown drive, and while I still think Arizona loses easily, that’s still a game changer. Ultimately, Dixon’s penalty wasn’t a killer, although it contributed to a frustrating total of eight penalties for 45 yards.

Kevin Sumlin has often preached the need for improved penalty discipline this season. Despite periodic improvement in October, this is an item that will have to be fixed in 2020, because it probably isn’t getting fixed this year.