EUGENE, Ore. — Khalil Tate uncorked a Hail Mary with 23 seconds left and Saturday’s game out of reach. It was intercepted. Before Arizona’s defense could run back on the field, UA receiver Shawn Poindexter darted for the sideline, dove to the ground, laid down and called for a trainer. He groaned and moaned and lay there as his teammates shook Oregon’s players’ hands and filed to the locker room.
Poindexter was eventually helped up and walked off on his own, alone, to the locker room — and then to Arizona’s bus out of Autzen Stadium. Arizona left the state of Oregon following a 48-28 loss with more injured defensive linemen (three) than Tate touchdowns (one).
For the last two months, Arizona has been able to rely on two things: health and Tate. Not on Saturday.
Tate had his worst game of the season — 18 of 35 passing for 159 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, with just 32 rushing yards on 14 carries.
For the first time since Tate took over for Brandon Dawkins on Oct. 7 against Colorado and set the FBS rushing record for quarterbacks, an opposing defense figured out how to shut him down for four quarters.
“I took what they gave me,” Tate said. “I just gotta come out on top next time.”
Tate accounted for one touchdown on Saturday. Arizona left with three injured defensive linemen.
The Wildcats lost two on one play. As Oregon’s Royce Freeman punched in a one-yard touchdown, defensive tackle Dereck Boles had to be helped off the field. He left the locker room wearing a boot on his right foot. Senior defensive lineman Luca Bruno was taken out and put into concussion protocol.
In the first quarter, Freeman landed awkwardly on defensive end Justin Belknap’s knee; the former walk-on had to be helped off the field, unable to put weight on his right leg, and never returned to the game.
The Wildcats were already without freshman Kurtis Brown, who was left in Tucson to battle an undisclosed illness. Senior nose guard Parker Zellers, typically a starter, was suspended for a violation of team rules and didn’t make the trip.
By the end of the night, the Wildcats had defensive end-turned-tight end Jack Banda back on the defensive line playing key snaps in a close game.
“We were playing guys that didn’t even practice on defense all week,” coach Rich Rodriguez said. “It wasn’t like we were stopping them anyway. That situation just got crazy.”
Last year, Arizona dug deep into its depth chart at quarterback and running back due to injuries. In 2015, the Wildcats resorted to starting walk-ons at middle linebacker when everyone on the depth chart went down.
The Wildcats hadn’t dealt with many injuries this season. At least, not before Saturday.
“It’s always tough playing on the road,” linebacker Colin Schooler said. “When injuries start happening, stuff seems to go wrong.”
Arizona has had difficulty stopping the opposition all season on defense. Oregon gained 588 yards last week after USC and Washington State each gained 600 on the Wildcats in recent weeks. When that happened, Tate was always around to save the day.
He brought Arizona back from a large deficit, on the road, against USC two weeks ago, but he couldn’t pull the same magic again against the Ducks.
It’s not like Oregon threw anything different at him, either.
“I saw they had some success slowing him down. We didn’t block it well, we didn’t read it well,” Rodriguez said. “They did a good job. … They were playing the exact way we thought they would play. They played it better than us.”
Oregon was expecting more of a playmaker. It’s why, following the game, one Duck said the team’s scout-team quarterback gave the team more of a challenge than Tate did.
Freshman athlete Demetri Burch lined up as Tate in practice during the week.
“I believe that Burch gave us a better look than Tate did tonight,” said Oregon corner Ugochukwu Amadi, throwing shade at the UA quarterback.
It was a cold night and, this time, it didn’t belong to Tate.