Is it possible to feel pretty good about a performance but still lose by more than 20 points?
Arizona lost its 16th consecutive game on Saturday night, falling 41-19 at Oregon in its Pac-12 opener. But the Wildcats also hung with the No. 3 team in the country for three quarters and had a legitimate chance to pull off a monumental upset if not for some critical errors from quarterback Jordan McCloud.
McCloud, making his first start at the UA but 18th of his career, threw for 233 yards and a touchdown and ran for 64. But he was also intercepted four times, twice inside the red zone, keeping the UA from capitalizing on a huge edge in time of possession.
Arizona held the ball for nearly 38 minutes, outgaining the Ducks 435-393 and holding them to just 121 in the second half, but the giveaways led to 17 Oregon points including a game-sealing pick-six midway through the fourth quarter.
That it even made a game of it in the second half is a testament to Arizona’s reputation so far under first-year coach Jedd Fisch to keep fighting after falling behind early. That’s because it was another horrible start for the Wildcats, with their defense giving up a TD on the third play of the game and then the offense turning it over on its first snap.
Less than four minutes in and the UA was down 10-0, setting the table for another lopsided result. Instead, the Wildcats kept it within two scores until midway through the fourth quarter, sending themselves into the bye week with some confidence but also plenty to work on during the time off.
Arizona trailed 24-10 at the half but had a chance to get within one score on its first drive of the second half. The Wildcats put together a 15-play march, getting down to the Oregon 21, before McCloud threw his third interception of the game with 8:29 left in the third quarter.
That’s when the UA defense stepped up, with Mo Diallo—who missed the first half because of his targeting ejection last week against NAU—sacked Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown for a safety to make it 24-12 with 7:11 left in the third quarter.
Brown had 206 yards and three TDs on 10-of-21 passing.
Arizona cut it to 24-19 with 1:36 left in the third on a 1-yard TD run by Drake Anderson, which came a play after McCloud spun off the pile for a conversion on 4th-and-inches from inside the Oregon 3. That drive was also aided by a roughing the passer penalty on the Ducks.
Anderson led the UA with 67 yards on 21 carries as the Wildcats ran for a season-high 202 yards.
Oregon added a 43-yard field goal by Kamden Lewis to extend the lead to 27-19 with 13:38 remaining, then after Arizona had to punt the Ducks made it a 2-score game on an 18-yard TD catch by Spencer Webb to make it 34-19 with 8:26 to go.
McCloud’s fourth pick ended any chance of a UA comeback, as Oregon’s Bennett Williams—who also had an interception in the end zone in the first half—returned it 68 yards for a TD to make it 41-19 with 7:04 left.
The Ducks took a 7-0 lead just 62 seconds into into the game on a 63-yard TD catch by Jaylon Redd, who shook off poor tackle attempts by UA safeties Gunner Maldonado and Jaydin Young for the score. McCloud was picked off Arizona’s first offensive play, his screen pass to Drake Anderson ending up in the hands of Oregon’s Williams.
Oregon could only managed a field goal off that takeaway, though, going up 10-0 with 10:51 left in the first quarter.
Arizona’s second drive was perfection compared to the first, with the Wildcats going 91 yards in 10 plays and capped by McCloud’s 11-yard TD pass to Bryce Wolma with 6:15 remaining in the first. It was the first time a UA tight end had scored since Wolma did so against Hawaii in the 2019 season opener.
Oregon went up 17-7 less than two minutes later on an 11-yard CJ Verdell run, which came one play after Travis Dye gained 54 yards on a run.
Arizona quickly got into the Ducks’ red zone, getting to the 11, before McCloud made his second mistake. After rolling to the left on 2nd and long he opted to throw rather than run and forced a throw to Stanley Berryhill III in the back of the end zone, where Oregon’s Mykael Wright was there to pick it off.
The Ducks took better advantage of that takeaway, going 80 yards in eight plays to lead 24-7 with 9:59 left in the first half thanks to a 9-yard TD pass from Brown to Terrance Ferguson.
Arizona cut the deficit to 24-10 with 4:24 left in the first on a 28-yard Lucas Havrisik field goal after stalling in the red zone. That drive was kept alive thanks to a 35-yard catch by Berryhill on 4th-and-2 when he came back to an underthrow from McCloud as he was under pressure.
The UA now has its bye before returning home to face UCLA on Oct. 2.