What a stunner in Eugene Thursday night, where 23-point underdog Arizona threw a very big monkey wrench into Oregon’s national-championship plans with a 31-24 victory over the Ducks.
The Wildcats were plucky and deserving on both sides of the ball. They gained in the neighborhood of 500 yards and rendered the Oregon offense inconsistent. Simply put, Oregon looked very average against Arizona, nothing like the No. 2-rated team in the country.
Among the fallout:
— Amazingly, a couple of days into October, every Pac-12 North team has a loss.
— Arizona is now 5-0 and will surely make a move up the national rankings.
— Inspiring as it was for Arizona, it’s a shot to the chops for the league and its hopes for a spot in the first national playoff. Oregon was seen as the most likely team to get there. To do it, the Ducks probably now have to run the table, including winning the Pac-12 title game.
— Michigan State has to hate it as well. The Spartans were 19-point losers earlier to Oregon, and part of their hopes to crash the playoff rested with a strong performance all season by the Ducks.
— It puts a dent in the Heisman Trophy hopes of Marcus Mariota, who didn’t play poorly, but was stripped of the ball by Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright on Oregon’s would-be tying touchdown drive at the end.
— That titanic game next week at UCLA — Oregon versus the Bruins — suddenly has lost some of its luster.
Right now, the best team in the Pac-12 appears to be UCLA — a team that was seriously questioned before it blitzed Arizona Sate last week.
While Oregon’s offensive-line injuries are obviously having an impact, perhaps as big a shortfall for Oregon is its defense.
This week, Oregon’s ex-defensive coordinator, Nick Aliotti, now doing commentary on Pac-12 Networks, told John Canzano of the Oregonian he thought USC’s defense was playing “soft.” Funny, but that’s exactly what Oregon looked like against the Wildcats, giving up three long third-quarter drives to a redshirt-freshman quarterback, Anu Solomon.
The Ducks were unable to stop Arizona’s wheel routes by backs, twice busting coverages to leave them wide-open for huge gains.
Arizona was more physical, and the sputtering nature of Oregon’s offense was reflected on a third-and-goal play just preceding a field goal in the fourth quarter that left the Ducks behind 24-17. With the ball at the Arizona 7, Mariota handed off (on a curious call) to the back (I believe it was Royce Freeman), who was engulfed at the 5 by safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant and lineman Parker Zellers, while outside linebacker Cody Ippolito buried Mariota behind the line of scrimmage.
It’s a key weekend in college football with several important matchups. Nobody expected the show to start two days early.