Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson is knocked out of bounds by Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota after Richardson picked off Mariota’s pass during the fourth quarter.
Dumb-founded, hurt and humbled, Oregon coaches and players did not quite know how to handle the postgame scene following the Ducks’ first shellacking in more than five years.
They have been a dynasty since then, with four straight conference championships, two Rose Bowl appearances, two Fiesta Bowl berths, including the 2011 BCS National Championship game, 55 wins, and now, nine losses.
The ninth was a big one, a 42-16 Arizona Wildcats walloping that sent Oregon back to Eugene, tail feathers tucked between their legs.
The coaches were solemn, if reserved. The players, humiliated to the point of stoicism.
“They just kicked our ass,” Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff said. “Offense and defense. All I can say. Hats off to those guys.”
Earlier in the week, Huff said something else, perhaps indicative of the Ducks’ approach to Saturday’s game, which was supposed to be a breeze.
“I don’t want to play in a Rose Bowl unless I’m playing for a national championship,” Huff said on Monday, echoing statements made by teammate De’Anthony Thomas and ignoring the fact that the Ducks still had two regular-season games plus a potential Pac-12 championship game for which to prepare.
Or maybe it was the Wildcats’ interception on the first play of the game that threw things off so bad, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota’s first in more than a year, 343 straight passes without a pick. But when the ball popped off Bralon Addison and Shaq Richardson dived to tip it back inbounds, and Scooby Wright came down with it, the Ducks were stunned, disjointed, frazzled.
“Sometimes when you miss those opportunities, you don’t get in a rhythm,” said Mariota, who would throw another interception, his second of the year, later in the game. “This offense is very rhythm-based, and when you can’t push the ball, you put a strain on your defense.”
But the Ducks were quicker to credit the Arizona offense than to disavow their defense.
The nation’s No. 8-
ranked defense in points per game allowed showed little of the athleticism that has been their hallmark this year, the third straight year Oregon had improved its scoring defense.
Running back Ka’Deem Carey punished the Ducks up the middle, gaining 206 rushing yards on 48 attempts while setting program records for career rushing yards and total touchdowns. Quarterback B.J. Denker had perhaps the game of his life, completing 19 of 22 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 102 yards on 14 carries.
“Whenever you’re not stopping the run, the pass plays become a lot more. When A tries to do B’s job, and B tries to do C, who’s doing A’s job?” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.
Ultimately, the Ducks lost the game on the ground, surrendering 304 rushing yards after allowing an average of less than 150 per game coming in.
Carey plugged his way to school records for career rushing yards and career touchdowns, and Oregon was left watching celebration after celebration.
“They played a really good football game,” Aliotti said. “They beat us today. They were a better team, They were able to run the ball with Carey and the QB, the two things we were most concerned about.”
After the game, there were more concerns.
A season that just weeks ago was stacking up to conclude in another shot at the national championship now becomes just another year.
Mark Helfrich, inheriting the reins from Chip Kelly after Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles, is staring at a fanbase that is losing patience, even this early. Losses to Stanford and Arizona, with a potential BCS berth all but washed away, have left the Ducks in a spot that has become completely unfamiliar.
“I’m not very happy,” Helfrich said. “This is a very, very frustrating thing. We put a lot of work into this, our guys put a lot into this. We have a lot of guys who are hurt in that locker room.”