For the second straight season, the Arizona Wildcats upset the heavily favored Oregon Ducks, but this year it was in Autzen Stadium, where the Ducks had not lost to an unranked opponent since 2008. The Wildcats got a huge strip sack on Oregon’s last drive to hold onto a 31-24 win, improving them to 5-0 and joining UCLA as one of the two undefeated teams left in the Pac-12.
Last year, Oregon’s loss to Arizona was not as surprising since they had just come off a loss to their Pac-12 North rivals Stanford and there was a visible let down in the Ducks players. That game in 2013 was also in Tucson, and the Wildcats got a huge win with the help of the home fans rattling the Ducks when they were already down, and their quarterback, Marcus Mariota, looked to be a little hobbled.
This year, Arizona’s upset win over Oregon in Eugene was a complete shock to the college football world. Coming into this game, both teams had struggled to get wins over inferior opponents. Oregon won an extremely close 38-31 game over Washington State, where Mariota had to almost single handedly will his team to victory. The Wildcats had the biggest comeback victory in school history when they turned a 28-6 halftime deficit into a 49-45 win over Cal, thanks to a last second Hail Mary caught in the end zone by Austin Hill.
Anyone who watched the Oregon win over Washington State could have seen the potential problems in the team that led to their upset loss to Arizona. Both the offensive and defensive lines had trouble containing Wazzu and the Wildcats capitalized on those problems. The offensive line has had a rash of injuries and that has not helped them build cohesion. During the game, Oregon also lost defensive lineman Arik Armstead in the first half, leaving a big hole on the defensive front. This became a huge story because of how well the Wildcats were able to run the ball on the Ducks, ending the night with 208 rushing yards. Oregon will have to figure out their offensive and defensive front issues if they want to have a chance against some of the better Pac-12 teams like UCLA and Stanford.
Under Rich Rodriguez, Arizona has had major issues on the defense, but against the Ducks, the defense played extremely well, forcing some big turnovers and holding a very talented offense to 24 points. During the game, it did not seem as though Oregon had any trouble moving the ball, but the Wildcat defense did a great job of buckling down and getting big stops on third and fourth downs. Mariota was constantly under pressure all night and that led to some big turnovers, especially the strip sack on Oregon’s last drive that ended the game.
A lot of Oregon fans will look at a huge foul call that kept alive the go-ahead Arizona drive. With the game tied at 24 in the fourth quarter, on a big 3rd and 8 for the Wildcats, Oregon defensive end Tony Washington blew his way past his opponents, getting a sack that would have ended the drive. However, he was then flagged for an excessive celebration call. This kept the Arizona drive alive and they proceeded to score the go-ahead score making it 31-24. The Wildcats had a similar call against them on a drive early in the game that was equally questionable, and even though the first Oregon touchdown where Mariota fumbled right at the goal line was reviewed, it was very questionable whether he really did get into the end zone or not.
Bad calls are an easy thing for upset Oregon fans to point to, but the reality was a better team beat them. Arizona was running the ball at will on Oregon and when the Wildcats defense needed stops, they got them. Oregon had a chance to come back and tie the game, but their quarterback fumbled in the biggest moment. Oregon will have a lot of questions surrounding their season going forward, especially next weekend when they have arguably their toughest test, traveling to Pasadena to face UCLA.
Next up, Arizona have another huge test when USC travels to Tucson for a big Pac-12 South matchup. After the win at Oregon, the Wildcats have now firmly placed themselves in the mix in the Pac-12 South. Rich Rodriguez will have a big test getting his team ready to face another really talented team in USC after such an emotional win over Oregon.
Arizona going into Eugene and Autzen Stadium and upsetting Oregon shocked the college football world and may have shaken up the playoff picture. For Wildcats’ coach Rich Rodriguez, it was a defining win that will only help in recruiting and their standing this season in the Pac-12 South. For Oregon, it was a bad loss on a national TV stage that may have really hurt their playoff chances this season, but a win in their next game against UCLA could really help to right the ship.
Commentary by Max Petkevicius