Arizona's running back #3 Daniel Jenkins gets smothered by Stanford defenders in the fourth quarter at Arizona Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. Stanford defeated Arizona 37-10.

David Sanders/Arizona Daily Star

As the atmosphere at Arizona Stadium evolved from hopeful to hopeless, the Wildcats were penalized late in the third period when one of their punt coverage guys lined up off-side and, according to referee Michael Batlan, "threatened a Stanford player."

At that point, with UA trailing 23-10, unable to stop the Cardinal with any effectiveness, what could the offending Arizona player possibly say?

"I'm going to throw up on your shoes"?

The Wildcats had that sick feeling all night, losing to Stanford 37-10. The unusually small crowd of 49,636 at Arizona Stadium exited quickly (and quietly), rocket-fueling speculation that the UA's season is officially on the critical list.

If getting rolled by Oklahoma State and buried by Stanford were Hell Week I and II, what's next?

ESPN is scheduled to broadcast the Oregon-Arizona game here Saturday night - is it too late to ask for replacement programming to save the Wildcats further embarrassment? - and if you think the Wildcats felt sick this time, playing the Ducks figures to be like a barrel role in an F-15.

This worrisome streak of bad football - Arizona has lost seven consecutive games against BCS teams - has not passed. It has intensified.

Twice in his post-game briefing, UA coach Mike Stoops used the term "young team," which is code for "this isn't going to be a quick fix."

Those among us who expected Arizona to rise to the occasion and play with toughness and spirit against the seventh-ranked Cardinal didn't pay proper attention, or give enough respect to Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

After 33 years of Pac-10 quarterbacking excellence, from John Elway to Troy Aikman and Carson Palmer, it's easy to roll your eyes when the alleged Next Big Thing shows up and expect something less, someone like Andrew Walter or Jake Locker.

Luck didn't turn out to be good. He turned out to be better.

Stanford averaged 8.1 yards per play, gaining 567 yards, and it never could lay a hand on Luck, who looks to be a cross between a young Peyton Manning and a more mobile Tom Brady. Luck is the presumptive No. 1 pick in next April's NFL draft, and it's not because he's a freak athlete like JaMarcus Russell, but because he can make a college defense, such as Arizona's, look like Boy Scouts.

Arizona was reasonably competitive for 45 minutes, but it just doesn't have the resources to play with a Top 25 team. To do so would have required place-kicker Jaime Salazar to make two of the field goals he missed, and it would have required Arizona's defense to take Luck out of his comfort zone the way Stanford was in UA quarterback Nick Foles' grill all night.

Foles was officially sacked five times, but was either hit, hurried or harassed another 10 times. Arizona's offensive line has been so ineffective and inconsistent that the Wildcats have scored just 24 points in two games, losses to Oklahoma State and Stanford, despite gaining 772 yards.

It'll likely need 772 yards and 24 points in each half next week to hang with the Ducks.

Arizona's defensive breakdown is open to zero interpretation. It is simply not good enough to contain elite-level teams like Stanford and Oklahoma State. (And don't forget Oregon.) It can't stop the run or the pass.

Stanford has two of the nation's top offensive linemen, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, and on Saturday night it was pick-your-poison. Whenever Stanford needed a big run, it got one. DeCastro and Martin were dominant; Stanford gained 242 yards rushing, an average of 6.1 yards a carry.

That's frightening familiar: A week ago in Oklahoma, the Wildcats yielded 197 rushing yards, or 6.1 yards per crack.

We were all aware that Arizona would be facing two of America's top college quarterbacks, Luck and OSU's Brandon Weeden; what wasn't anticipated was that both teams would also be able to run with abandon on the UA defense.

About all the Wildcats could take out of the third week of college football is that the OSU-Stanford-Oregon series is almost over. The rest of the Pac-12, with the possible exception of Utah and USC, is ordinary, maybe much less.

If the Wildcats can survive and gather themselves for a streak of October games against Oregon State, UCLA and Washington, the notion persists that this crisis may soon pass.

But after being outscored 74-24 and yielding 1,161 yards in two games, for Arizona that's quite a rose-colored reach.

"There are a lot of places where we need to improve," said Stoops, "and it's not all going to happen within this week."

But maybe next month, right? Or even next year. Dig in. This could take a while.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or