Arizona's Nick Johnson strips the ball from Washington's Aziz N'Diaye during the first half as Kaleb Tarczewski defends from behind. Arizona coach Sean Miller later minced no words: "Nick's an elite defender."


Rich Rodriguez lost the 50th game of his Division I head coaching career Saturday night, which ordinarily would have no more meaning than No. 49 or No. 22.

But because you rarely escape history in college football, and because it tied RichRod with Mike Stoops at 50 career losses, it diminishes the scope of Arizona's 38-35 loss to Oregon State.

What I mean is: If Arizona is fortunate, RichRod will lose game No. 100 here, too. And even though Saturday's loss to the Beavers continues to sting, those invested in UA football know the real standings:

RichRod 78 wins.

Stoops 41 wins.

Under Rodriguez, Arizona football still has that new-car smell and it also has a greater upside than at any time since 1998, and, given its finances and facilities, a future that may actually fill all the seats at Arizona Stadium again. Unless the first five games have been a mirage, the Wildcats are going to be competitive this season and deep into the future.

Those who won big at Arizona lost big, too. Dick Tomey lost 145 games in his career, Larry Smith 126. A week ago, when Arizona was trounced by Oregon, the game was played on Rich Brooks Field.

Rich Brooks, who is a legendary figure at Oregon, was 128-158 as the Ducks' coach.

If you're going to last long enough to lose 100 games, you've got to react to a 38-35 loss to Oregon State the way RichRod did Saturday: He was visibly cranky and not in the mood to be a good host. It suggests his expectations are greater than those of the (few) people in the seats.

It was a game that got away, but not entirely because Arizona let it get away.

Oregon State beat the Wildcats, in part, because Mike Riley is in his 12th season coaching the Beavers (he has 63 losses), and because the Beavers have better players on both sides of the ball, especially on defense.

And they should. Recruiting and coaching continuity is almost half the battle.

Arizona is ranked No. 94 nationally in total defense (451 yards per game), which is uncomfortably close to last year's 461 per game, the worst yield in school history. When you allow 636 yards to Oklahoma State and 613 to Oregon State in the same month, on your home turf, you don't have a defense, you have a personnel-challenged sieve.

The Wildcats defense is unable to create a push at the line of scrimmage, as evidence by their season total of five sacks (No. 102 in the NCAA). As a result, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion - who led the Pac-12 with 18 interceptions last season - was able to attempt a career-high 45 passes with no picks Saturday.

Unhurried, Mannion looked like a cross between Johnny Unitas and Drew Brees. Mannion might not need to have his uniform laundered this week.

There's going to be a lot of that this year, because Arizona's defense, under Jeff Casteel, is thin, inexperienced, small and, yes, slow, too.

But things can change quickly in college football. A year ago Oregon State lost at home to Sacramento State. Its only Pac-12 victories were against a splintered Arizona team, the train wreck at Wazzu and against Washington.

And now the Beavers are the knocking on the door of the top 10.

Arizona should not be judged by victories this season, but by substance and direction.

This UA team is likely to go winless on the road and fail to qualify for a bowl game, but it is in far better shape than it was a year ago this week when Stoops took the Wildcats to Oregon State, dissolved, losing their eighth straight conference game.

Had you suggested then, the day Stoops was fired, that on Oct. 1, 2012, Arizona would be coached by Rich Rodriguez, that it would've scored 59 points against No. 18 Oklahoma State, and that a $72 million football plant would be under construction, you might've ordered some confetti.

When Oregon State returns to Tucson in 2014, Casteel's defense is apt to include many of the 25 young men who have committed to sign with Arizona in February, among them Luca Bruno, a defensive end from Oak Park, Calif., Prince Holloway, a defensive back from Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College, and Derrick Turituri, a linebacker from Grants Pass, Ore.

Lord knows, the Wildcats can use lots of help.

By the time RichRod loses game No. 60 or No. 65, those reinforcements should be in place.

Keep that confetti handy.