Arizona guard Mark Lyons, right, dives at the ball and pokes it away from USC guard Jio Fontan, causing a turnover in the first half.



When a drizzle resumed with some seriousness late in the fourth quarter Friday night, Autzen Stadium was still full. The announced crowd was 59,990 and 59,000 hadn't left their seats.

From the press box, you could see city lights all the way to Interstate 5, but you couldn't see any red taillights. The parking lots were as jammed as they had been six hours earlier, when tailgating reached a full roar.

Who sits through the rain, in the cold, and chooses to watch the garbage minutes of a 48-29 football game rather than beat the traffic?

Duck fans do. Their team has outscored opponents 104-14 in the fourth quarter this year and you never know: One of these days the Ducks might score 104 in the fourth quarter alone. Oregon football is the best entertainment in the game. It's a video game on cleats.

UO fans are encouraged to rush the field, as long as they remain orderly and wait until the opponent is safely in the visitor's locker room. A few were premature Friday, but mostly they celebrated with civility. They are used to it.

It was in this setting Friday night that the Ducks took possession for a final time; 2:31 remained. A shirtless man leaning over the railing near the 20-yard line exhorted Oregon to score again.

"We've gotta get 50!" he screamed.

At that moment, UA receivers coach Dave Nichol turned to Mike Stoops and asked if he wanted to use Arizona's three timeouts.

"Nope," Stoops said.

The game had already been much too long for the Wildcats.

Oregon won 48-29, the fans partied heartily, and when Stoops emerged from his team's dressing room he was led not to the lavish Casanova Center or to any of the sparkling facilities built by the vast Nike vault. He walked into a cramped utility room with exposed pipes and scattered equipment containers.

"Nice place here, huh?" he said. "With all the money they have, you think they'd have a better place."

But isn't that just the point? The Ducks aren't in the hospitality business. They've won games at Autzen 72-0, 69-0 and 60-13 this season. When you are No. 1, and the Ducks certainly deserve to be No. 1, there is no point in giving the other guy any hope.

Sixty minutes was too much for Arizona. "It was just a long game," said UA safety Adam Hall. "The elements got to us. I'm tired."

It wasn't much different from all of those hopeful visiting teams at McKale Center over the last 25 years, hanging tight with Lute Olson's basketball team for 25 or 30 minutes, and then crumbling when each possession became meaningful.

The Wildcats are not yet good enough to win against a team like Oregon, or make it much more than good TV programming.

"What they do is wear down defenses," said UA quarterback Nick Foles. And shouldn't he know? The Wildcats gained 506 yards but yet were hopelessly out of the game with 14 minutes remaining.

The Ducks are going in an altogether different direction from Arizona. They seem almost sure to play Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game and they won't pause long to pick over the details of Friday's routine victory.

Arizona, by comparison, had such an unpleasant experience that, once they reached the Eugene airport, they were informed that their charter plane had mechanical problems. They couldn't leave until a replacement plane could be summoned from Phoenix in, oh, five hours, or about 3 a.m., Tucson time.

Did we say it was not a good day to be the visiting team in Eugene, Ore.?

It wasn't that the Wildcats didn't play hard or summon a better effort than they did in losses to USC and Stanford.

Late in the first half, leading 16-14, riled up and angry when two penalties were called against Hall, the Wildcats assembled for an impromptu team huddle. Hall took off his helmet and raged, exhorting his teammates to play even harder. Stoops waved off referee Michael Batlan in disgust.

When Alex Zendejas kicked a field goal four seconds before half, giving Arizona an unlikely 19-14 lead, he ran down the middle of the field pointing a finger at the Oregon bench, as if to say, well, let's just hope he didn't say "we've got you where we want you now."

Nobody has the Ducks where they want them, not this year. Almost predictably, the second time Oregon touched the ball after halftime, some obscure freshman named Josh Huff ran 85 yards for a touchdown.

The Ducks led 20-19 and Arizona couldn't recover.

Josh Huff? The Ducks are so deep and resourceful that, as a fifth-string tailback, he has only carried the ball 10 times this year - and gained 193 yards.

Arizona's runners, Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin, couldn't find anywhere to run. They carried 24 times. They gained 61 yards. That isn't going to beat the nation's No. 1 team. It isn't likely to beat Arizona State on Thursday night, either.

"They can be beat," Grigsby said, bravely, rain dropping on his head. "But you just gotta play the whole 60 minutes."

On Friday, the Wildcats played 30 good minutes, fell apart, lost their third straight game and then sat at a dark airport waiting to find a way home.

At the worst possible time, they seem to have lost their way.