Yep, that just happened. The #2 ranked Ducks suffered a devastating loss to the Arizona Wildcats at Autzen Stadium tonight to drop to 4-1. This loss will go in the vault with the rest of the heart breaking Oregon losses in recent years while on the quest for a national championship. This one is still registering with me.
Let’s take a look back at what took place.
Tonight the undefeated and number 2 ranked team in the country were set to take on another undefeated team on ESPN with the college football worlds eyes all cast on Autzen. This wasn’t another hapless opponent with no chance in hell to win the game. This was against a conference rival who defeated the Ducks last year in embarrassing fashion to relinquish Oregon’s BCS bowl game ambitions.
Autzen stadium held 56,032 fans tonight and it marked the 100th consecutive sellout. It didn’t look like it. More importantly, it didn’t feel like it. The atmosphere was off somehow when it shouldn’t have been.
The overall environment would have most thinking it was an early September game against a Mountain West bottom dweller.
Saying the Oregon fans were dull is putting it kindly. The student section didn’t fill up until the 2nd quarter. There were pockets of holes throughout the other areas of the stadium as well. Sure, it came to life as the game wore on but overall it was a poor display from the home crowd in my eyes.
Many expected the Ducks to come out with guns blazing and revenge on their mind. This did not happen.
Oregon had brief moments of upside but failed to convert on two 4th and 3’s early in the game. The second of these failed conversions saw Byron Marshall drop a wide-open pass. Arizona would go on to make Oregon pay.
On Arizona’s first drive they had to settle a field goal to draw first blood. Oregon had a huge stop on 3rd and 5. Terris Jones-Grigsby had two huge runs in the drive. Arizona’s first possession tallied 58 yards on 11 plays.
On Oregon’s second drive they were forced to punt again.
Arizona took over again and the offensive flow took over where it left off. Despite their success in moving the ball, Reggie Daniels rescued the Ducks from further punishment with an interception on 3rd and 2.
Oregon got the ball back again but fail to capitalize on Daniels INT. Mariota and the Ducks offense however saw glimpses of its old self such as the 15-yard completion to Keanon Lowe to the 48 for a first down. Penalties would kill the drive however as a Hroniss Grasu false start made it 2nd and 11. The next play Mariota was taken back for a loss to make it 3rd and 14. They’d fail to convert which brought on another Wheeler punt.
On Arizona’s next drive the Oregon defense stepped up in a major way. Erick Dargan blew up a play and Solomon was sacked for a loss of 10 on 3rd down. This time the Wildcats were forced to punt.
With the ball back, Mariota and the Oregon offense began rolling. Mariota hit Pharaoh Brown for a 16-yard completion. The Ducks converted a 3rd and 2 to Byron Marshall for a first down. Oregon ended the first quarter marching down the field in the red zone.
The first quarter ended however with Arizona still leading 3 to 0.
A key play during the drive that got the Autzen crowd going was Royce Freeman trucking an Arizona defender for a big run.
However, despite a few key plays, Duck fans had little to cheer about and the stadium’s environment remained tame.
Soon after Freemans decleating, Oregon tried some trickery, which saw Royce freeman throw a touchdown pass to Marcus Mariota. The play was further reviewed however as whether Mariota had possession or if the ball crossed the plain were in question. The call stood.
The Ducks produced 75 yards on 8 plays. The score was now 7-3 Oregon early in the 2nd quarter.
Oregon’s D withstood the following season and the Wildcats punted.
With the ball back, Mariota and company were yet again moving the ball somewhat successfully. Oregon challenged a crucial Mariota pass to Darren Carrington which was originally ruled an incomplete pass, much to the home crowds pleasure.
There wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call and Oregon punted.
Oregon’s D yet again forced another punt on the ensuing Wildcat possession.
Oregon’s offense wasn’t as crisp this possession and it took a Jonathan McKnight pass interference to keep the drive going. The following play
Mariota was blind sided for a sack and the fumble was recovered by Arizona.
The machine that was Arizona’s offense tonight only continued to run over everything in its way. QB Anu Solomon had a 21 yard run on Oregon’s 43 for a first down. Solomon would also pick up a crucial 4th down conversion. Late in the 2nd Oregon recovered a Wildcat fumble at the 10 yard line. Recovered by Derrick Malone.
Oregon ended the half with a 7-3 lead. This score didn’t reflect the reality of the game. Oregon was EXTREMELY fortunate to have gone into halftime with a lead as they could have easily been down by multiple scores.
Arizona had the ball to start the second and started the second half with the same momentum on offense they had in the first.
They continued running the ball with great success and Oregon didn’t have a clue in how to stop it.
A pass interference on Reggie Daniels put the ball at the Oregon 3 yard line.
Nick Wilson ran the ball into the end zone on the very next play to put Arizona up 10-7.
The crowd went utterly quiet.
The next possession Oregon failed to convert a 3rd and 5 but thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct on Arizona it gave Oregon the first down. It put the ball at the Arizona 12.
Oregon followed with a Mariota to Allen connection to put Oregon back on top on a 6-yard pass.
The Ducks accumulated 72 yards on 10 plays, which made the crowd reinvigorated in a sense.
Arizona’s offense had no plans of backing down and letting the Ducks use the momentum to increase their lead. They followed with a 55-yard play that put Arizona with a first down at the Oregon 3.
Arizona then responded with a Nick Wilson touchdown to put them back on top.
Arizona’s drive: 9 plays on 93 yards.
On the proceeding drive Oregon went three and out with a punt and you could hear the groans of an uneasy home crowd multiplying.
Arizona went back to their run game, which ceased to show any signs of slowing down.
They followed with a 44-yard touchdown pass to Nick Wilson to extend the Wilcdats lead to 10. A minute and 33 seconds remained in the 3rd quarter.
The Wildcats totals: 80 yards on 8 plays.
The crowd desperately tried to will the Ducks back into the game despite a bleak score in the game.
Oregon quickly responded with a drive, which led them to the two-yard line. The 3rd quarter ended though after a no gain run by Thomas Tyner up the gut.
To start off the 4th quarter Royce Freeman ran for another no gain and the Ducks followed with a false start and an unsuccessful run which set up a 21-yard Matt Wogan field goal. Many of the Duck fans expressed their dissatisfaction for going for the field goal.
Oregon’s drive: 8 plays for 72 yards.
The score was Arizona: 24 Oregon: 17 early on in the 4th quarter.
Arizona quickly went back to business.
Arizona was once again in Oregon territory threatening to score. A controversial call on a fumble would have had Oregon run it back to tie the game. However, after reviewing the play, the refs chose with the original call, which was that the runner was down before the ball came loose.
Autzen erupted in a violent swarm of boos even long after Oregon stopped Arizona on 4th and 2.
Oregon followed with a promising looking drive until they were set up with a 4th and 11 around the Arizona 40 with just under 9 minutes to go. Mariota completed a pass to Devon Allen in the red zone to get the first. A Keanon Lowe touchdown later tied the game at 24.
Autzen was rocking.
Anu Solomon and the Arizona O made sure the game remained close. Arizona once again drove down the field with ease.
Oregon had a chance for a key stop on 3rd and 20 and the Wildcats picked up 24 yards ON A DRAW PLAY.
Oregon held on 3rd down but a Tony Washington unsportsmanlike conduct gave Arizona an automatic first down. This was most definitely one of the most crucial plays in the entire game. Personally, I wouldn’t have made that call that late in the game but I could be wrong.
Arizona took advantage with a Terris Jones-Grisby touchdown to put The Wildcats back on top by a touchdown.
More importantly, it left only 2 minutes and 54 seconds left in the game.
The drive: 15 plays for 71 yards.
Mariota now needed to lead the offense down the field from the 9-yard line for a touchdown to tie the game. After a few successful competitions Marcus Mariota was tackled from behind where he ended up fumbling and losing the ball to Arizona in the process.
Arizona would go on to milk the clock for the remainder of the game and the upset was complete.
Despite the heart-breaking loss the coaches and players remained positive and seemingly unaffected in their press conferences. Helfrich put the blame on himself but insisted his teams focus would be on next weeks game and not sulking over this loss. On the controversial Tony Washington play that many are considering a turning point in the game he simply said, "Not a very good time to make that play." "Left a lot of points on the board" "The locker room is positive" and "ready to move on," said Helfrich.
Royce Freeman credited Arizona’s physicality. ANOTHER PHYSICAL TEAM MANAGED TO GIVE OREGON FIT’S? I DON’T BELIEVE IT.
Despite the hard loss Freeman emphasized, "moving on and getting better."
The defense is certainly going to bear a large part of the blame for this loss and it certainly should. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu mentioned how Arizona was able to do whatever they wanted to the Oregon D until they switched to man coverage. Ifo also remarked though that by the time they changed, it was too late.
Derrick Malone touched on the penalties. "We beat ourselves in some ways with the penalties."
The Autzen Stadium exit after an Oregon loss is never a fun experience. Tonight was no different. Some fans shouted obscenities while the majority slowly trotted with their heads down in silence. When the goal for your team is a national championship every season, it builds impractical expectations. For Oregon, perhaps many Duck fans considered this year the year due to Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota leaving after this season. Uncertainty looms in the near future and all Oregon fans can do is question whether the Ducks ever will get that highly coveted national championship.
The season wasn’t supposed to unfold like this. Tonight was supposed to be a blowout. This wasn’t Stanford or UCLA. Arizona is a basketball school.
Yet, for the 2nd straight year they have knocked off a top 5 Oregon side.
For some reason a part of me is hopeful as all that I’ve learned in the last few years is how extremely difficult it is to go undefeated. To expect an undefeated season is ludicrous. One team is likely to go undefeated this season, perhaps two. But more undefeated teams like Oregon will fall later this season. All we can do is hope for mayhem to ensue and trust Oregon to learn from this defeat and make the improvements necessary to win out.
There’s still a lot to play for and the season is still young.