STILLWATER, Okla. - The Arizona Wildcats' latest crushing loss could have just as easily taken place at Palo Alto or Eugene or San Diego or the Alamodome. It looked the same as when the Wildcats played against the Huskers, Ducks or Cardinal.
Oklahoma State's 37-14 thrashing of the UA before 54,654 at Boone Pickens Stadium played out just like the rest of them, another sequel to a bad movie with a predictable plot.
By now, you know the script.
Arizona enters the game with great expectations only to get beat from Broken Arrow to Broken Bow in the first half. The UA fights back admirably with the game out of reach only to have flukey things happen and its fading hopes crushed. Maybe a player gets hurt, or maybe he doesn't make the trip at all.
The Wildcats then board a plane home to Tucson, swearing it won't happen again.
"You get into a hole, and its hard to fight out of a hole," quarterback Nick Foles said. "We've got to get better at starting games."
On Thursday, Arizona's hole grew - and its opportunity closed - fast. The ninth-ranked Cowboys (2-0) scored on their first two possessions and three times in the game's first 16 minutes 30 seconds. Quarterback Brandon Weeden completed his first 13 passes, and 28 of his first 30. Wide receiver Justin Blackmon caught 128 yards' worth of passes and two scores, both over UA cornerback Shaquille Richardson.
When the Wildcats fought back, it was to save their pride - not win a game.
And if that sounds familiar, it is.
The UA (1-1) has played eight Top 25 teams since the start of the 2009 season. The Wildcats have been outscored 131-80 in the first half of those games, the most lopsided being a 23-0 deficit against Nebraska in the 2009 Holiday Bowl and 23-7 hole against Oklahoma State in the 2010 Alamo Bowl.
On Thursday, the Wildcats trailed 21-0 at the break - and were lucky it wasn't worse. The Cowboys outgained them 307 yards to 168 yards in the first 30 minutes alone.
Asked to diagnose Arizona's first-half struggles, linebacker Paul Vassallo shrugged his shoulders.
"I really, really wish I had that answer," he said. "Then we might not find ourselves in that situation."
Keola Antolin's 1-yard touchdown run put Arizona on the board midway through the third quarter, cutting the Cowboys' deficit to 14 points. The Cats' defense stifled Oklahoma State on its next three plays, forcing what most thought would be a punt.
Instead, punter Quinn Sharp faked, followed a block and ran down the right sideline for 23 yards. The Cowboys eventually punted, pinning the Wildcats deep in their own zone. The UA was called for successive penalties, punted back to OSU, and Weeden found Blackmon for his second touchdown of the night.
Weeden completed a school-record 42 of 53 passes for 397 yards. Foles did him 1 yard better, throwing for 398 yards on 37-of-51 passing.
The difference: Oklahoma State also had a running game. The Cowboys rushed for 197 yards to Arizona's 41, finishing with 594 yards of total offense. Sophomore Joseph Randle led the way, rushing 15 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught nine passes for 99 yards.
The UA rushing total included 19 yards from freshman Ka'Deem Carey in the fourth quarter. Coach Mike Stoops and Foles both vowed to make the UA offense more balanced before embarking on a hellish streak that includes Pac-12 games against Stanford, Oregon, USC and Oregon State.
"I'd be an idiot to say you can just throw it all the time. you've got to be able to run the ball," Foles said. "We've got running backs who are capable. … We're going to figure out how to run the ball."
Fortunately, the Wildcats continue to throw it well - even without Juron Criner. The star receiver missed Thursday's game as he recovered from an appendectomy. Criner underwent surgery Monday at a Tucson hospital, and did not make the trip to Stillwater.
Criner is questionable, Stoops said, to play against Stanford in eight days.
"It's one of those freak things," he said. "It's disappointing for him. He wants to be on the field with these guys."
Dan Buckner led the Wildcats in catches (10) and yards (142), and hauled in a 54-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. True freshman Austin Hill started for Criner, and finished with eight catches for 128 yards.
But Hill was also responsible for a critical fumble. The receiver was stripped at the OSU 35, ending Arizona's most promising drive of the first half.
From there, well, you know the rest.
"We can't start down 21-0 against Stanford, Oregon, SC, the rest of our schedule. You can't win the Pac-12 doing that," Vassallo said. "We need to figure that out, and we will."
• What: Stanford at Arizona
• When: Sept. 17, 7:45 p.m.
• TV; radio: ESPN; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)