Big picture. Gotta still look at the big picture.
The Arizona Wildcats’ 3-0 start was swept sway Saturday night, carried out by waves of mistakes against a more talented team, as Oregon pulled away for a 49-0 victory at Autzen Stadium on Saturday night.
“It’s embarrassing,” coach Rich Rodriguez said on his postgame radio show on 1290-AM (KCUB). “Our execution offensively is embarrassing. We have to be able to finish drives. We have to be able to kick a field goal.”
Arizona could do neither of those things.
Despite taking their first four possessions to the Oregon 4, 12, 2 and 13-yard lines, the Wildcats trailed 7-0 early in the second quarter, undone by a bad hold on a field goal, an interception, a fourth-down failure and a blocked field goal.
Arizona ultimately would go 0-for-6 in the red zone and throw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in the second half before having time to think about its football follies all the way back to Tucson.
“For us, offensively, it was a tale of four bad quarters,” Rodriguez said.
So, the national attention will dry up. Poof goes the Top 25 ranking. It was fun while it lasted.
You didn’t expect Arizona to beat Oregon, did you?
This season has always been about playing to show progress in new schemes on both sides of the ball, establishing a solid foundation in Rodriguez’s first season and scratching to become bowl eligible with six victories.
Despite the final score Saturday night — Oregon’s largest margin of victory ever against Arizona — this wasn’t one of those Mackovician games in which the Wildcats were hopelessly outclassed or decided they simply didn’t want to play.
Oregon is the better team, to be sure, but you wonder how the game would have played out if the Cats had scored a few times early. The defense got three turnovers, forced four punts and allowed only two plays of significance length to the blurriffic Oregon offense, both in the second half.
“Our defense played its tail off for the most part,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just embarrassed we did such a poor job as coaches getting this offense to finish drives.”
In its upset of Oklahoma State, Arizona pounced on every Cowboys turnover and miscue. The Wildcats failed to do that vs. Oregon, which gave up the ball at its 35 after a fourth-down failure on the opening drive of the game.
Arizona’s Matt Scott was just 22 of 44 for 210 yards, with three interceptions, and he missed two plays late in the first quarter after he had to go back to the locker room to get extra hip padding after taking a hit from an Oregon defender.
UA basically abandoned the quarterback run game, the cornerstone of the read-option offense, after that.
“He took a good shot to the hip,” Rodriguez said. “He has a lot of courage. He came back and battled and I gave him a lot of credit.”
The win over Oklahoma State on Sept. 8 begat stories of Rodriguez’s quick resurrection of the program, but this is a team with the same issues we knew it had in the preseason — notably, a lack of defensive depth, an imperative that Scott stay healthy, and an inability to beat almost anybody in the Pac-12 without playing a clean game.
There are no shortcuts to the process of getting the program to where Rodriguez wants it go.
Still, the Wildcats, by virtue of that upset of the Cowboys, are plus-1 on the season. The other three games — including the wins over Toledo and South Carolina State — went as regularly scheduled.
The loss at Oregon, while humbling, was a freebie. It was always supposed to be a loss.
That’s the big picture.
Next up is Oregon State on Saturday at Arizona Stadium. Now, this is a different matter. This is one of those swing games on UA’s schedule. To get to six victories for Arizona, you probably counted the Oregon State game in the win column.
Being able to get that W seems less likely after the Beavers surprisingly opened with a home win over Wisconsin and a road victory at UCLA.
Although the game against Oregon featured all kinds of missed opportunities, the real missed opportunity would be to lose to Oregon State.
So, despite the 49-0 result, there’s no need to panic. At least until next Saturday night.