Arizona football: Wildcats try to forget loss, focus on bowl

The Cats are hoping a bowl win, and not a loss to ASU that included this interception by Osahon Irabor, defines their season.

The 15,000 fans that remained inside Arizona Stadium for the final moments of Saturday's 56-31 loss to No. 10 Oregon probably won't remember witnessing the merciful end to the toughest month in Arizona Wildcats football history.

They might not recall the planned "Red, White and Blue-out" or the Ducks' first-half dominance, all of which was shown in humiliating high-definition on national television.

But make no mistake: Those present Saturday witnessed either the night that Arizona finally decided to fight, or the beginning of the end.

That's what makes the next month of the season so interesting.

The Wildcats' 2011 season will be defined by how they fare in upcoming games against USC, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington and Utah.

By the first week of November, Arizona's hellish September will - with some distance and perspective - take on a whole new identity.

On Saturday, however, the UA was reeling.

"We just weren't prepared to play," UA coach Mike Stoops said. "We finally came back and got in the game at the end."

Saturday's loss capped the toughest stretch in UA history - three consecutive games against teams ranked in The Associated Press' top 10. The UA was, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, just the fourth Pac-10 (now 12) team since 1978 to endure such a stretch.

The Wildcats went down meekly in losses to Oklahoma State and Stanford and appeared headed that way against Oregon before showing some fight.

The Wildcats scored 21 consecutive points in the second and third quarters and rallied late before falling.

The Ducks played as advertised - quick, explosive and ruthless, a yellow-and-green blur. Oregon rushed for 415 yards, part of a 516-yard offensive performance against an overmatched UA defense. LaMichael James led the way with a school-record 288 yards on 23 carries, an average of 12.5 yards per tote. Both of James' touchdowns came in the first half, when the Ducks zoomed ahead to a 35-9 lead and drove thousands of the 56,096 fans out of Arizona Stadium.

"I thought LaMichael James was spectacular," Stoops said. "We just couldn't get off the blocks and make plays. … We're kind of searching in a way defensively to give ourselves a chance to win."

With expectations lowered and Oregon cruising, the Wildcats - surprisingly - woke up, scoring 21 consecutive points to cut the lead to 35-24. Richard Morrison caught a 34-yard touchdown pass before halftime, and Keola Antolin and David Roberts added third-quarter scores.

Nick Foles' two-point conversion pass to David Douglas cut a Ducks' lead that was once as large as 32 points. Foles completed 34 of 57 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns, a gutsy - if gut-wrenching - performance that was marked by poorly-thrown passes and bone-jarring hits. Oregon defenders sacked Foles five times and hurried him a dozen more times. Foles appeared to injure his lower back in the third quarter when, while trying to wiggle out of a sack, he shuffled the ball to his left hand and completed a pass to Antolin for the first down.

He was outclassed, however, by quarterback Darron Thomas' 101 passing yards and four touchdowns. Two of them, including a score with 1:45 remaining in the game, came via the run.

He stopped Arizona's third-quarter momentum with a 5-yard touchdown run, capping an eight-play, 75-yard drive.

James rushed 31 yards to the Wildcats' 29 and, following Kenjon Barner's 7-yard run, ran 8 yards to get to the 14.

Facing third-and-11 from the 15, the Ducks called a draw play to Barner, who went 10 yards. One play later, Thomas used a designed sneak play to make it 42-24.

Barner struck again with 10 minutes left in the game, diving from 1 yard in to make it 49-24.

Oregon led from the beginning.

The Ducks drove 80 yards on eight plays on their first drive, tailback James capping it with a 12-yard scoring run. After Arizona went three-and-out, Oregon went 72 yards in 10 plays to make it 14-0. Barner's 8-yard run extended the Ducks' lead to two scores.

Arizona cut the lead to 14-3, then allowed 21 consecutive points in the second quarter.

Offensively, the Wildcats were dogged by underthrown passes, drops, sloppy penalties and poor tackling. Wide receivers Dan Buckner and Juron Criner both juggled what would have been touchdowns in the first half. Buckner's drop led to an Alex Zendejas field goal. Douglas led the team with 120 yards on seven catches, while Criner had nine grabs for 96 yards.

The numbers didn't matter. By early November, the Wildcats will either be back to respectability or headed for disaster.

"As a team we're not quitters. That's not what coach Stoops teaches," Douglas said. "Tonight, we took it personal."

Up next

• What: Arizona at USC

• When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday


• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM