Arizona's biggest football challenges lie ahead, against teams with national rankings and home-field advantages and little numbers next to their names on the Bottom Line ticker.

A reality check is certainly coming, maybe as soon as next weekend.

For now, though, the Arizona Wildcats can revel in the fact that they're undefeated. Why quibble over the quality of opponents?

Quarterback Matt Scott threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns Saturday as No. 24 Arizona routed tiny South Carolina State 56-0 at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats gained 689 yards, two short of the school record of 691 gained against New Mexico in 1969.

Saturday's victory improves Arizona's record to 3-0, ahead of the modest expectations first-year coach Rich Rodriguez set before the season. The Wildcats are halfway to bowl eligibility and flawless through nonconference play for just the second time in a decade.

It might not last: Arizona will open Pac-12 play against defending Rose Bowl champion Oregon next week, then face Oregon State and Stanford before taking its bye week.

Scott praised his team's ability to deliver Saturday in front of 43,919 fans, but said the Wildcats "won't be too excited about this win" given what lies ahead.

"We'll come back next week and get ready for Oregon," he said.

Arizona buzzed past SCSU by scoring in bunches and relying on its flawed but functional defense to make stops. The result was predictable: Arizona's 56-point win is its largest since the Wildcats routed Idaho 70-0 on Aug. 31, 2008. Saturday's game marked the Wildcats' first shutout since that day.

Arizona may have crushed the Division I FCS (formerly Div. I-AA) program, but it was far from perfect. Wide receiver Richard Morrison fumbled as the UA drove in the first quarter; after the Wildcats got the ball back, John Bonano missed a 25-yard field goal attempt.

As the UA cleaned things up, the points came. Taimi Tutogi, Ka'Deem Carey and Scott all scored second-quarter touchdowns, giving the Wildcats a 28-0 lead at the half. Dan Buckner caught a 27-yard touchdown pass and Daniel Jenkins ran 5 yards for a score in the third, extending the lead.

By the start of the fourth quarter, Scott was on the sideline and backup B.J. Denker was in. The self-described "Vanilla Vick" promptly led the team on a 14-play, 87-yard scoring drive. The Wildcats scored on his second series, too, extending the lead to 56-0.

Arizona's margin of victory, however, was secondary to larger things.

The Wildcats suffered no major injuries Saturday, though receiver Terrence Miller (shoulder) will be monitored over the next few days. Scott was stellar again Saturday, completing 30 of 36 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran nine times for 61 yards and a score.

Jenkins led the Wildcats with 76 rushing yards on 12 carries, and Buckner caught six passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.

"It felt good," Jenkins said, "to get the wheels oiled up."

The Wildcats' defense limited the Bulldogs (1-2) to just 151 yards on 53 plays.

"As a defense, we look to shut out every opponent," safety Jourdon Grandon said. "To go out and get that first one in a couple years, it feels pretty good."

Said linebacker Marquis Flowers: "That just lets you know we have pride, and we're going to keep fighting."

Most importantly, Arizona was able to develop a little depth Saturday night.

The fourth quarter was a who's-who of who's-hes: Wide receiver Sean Willet caught a touchdown pass, and running back Jared Baker punched in a 4-yard scoring run late. Tight end Dame Ndiaye and guard Jowyn Ward both debuted new numbers and positions. Defensive end Dan Pettinato and linebackers Hank Hobson and Dakota Conwell all made their season debuts after missing the first two weeks with injuries.

And, in a once-in-a-lifetime moment, Arizona's Chris Merrill tackled South Carolina State running back Chris Merrill after the latter ran for a 2-yard gain.

Across the country, Arizona's résumé improved: Oklahoma State and Toledo both won big in their games. Take away their losses to Arizona, and the Cowboys and Rockets are a combined 4-0 this season and have outscored their opponents 210-70.

And while Rodriguez called the looming showdown with Oregon "huge," the Wildcats weren't too proud Saturday to revel in a rare easy win.

"It counts as one, right?" Rodriguez said.

Up next

• What: Arizona at No. 4 Oregon

• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday


• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM