Sooner or later the offensive line problems were going to cost Oregon. With Marcus Mariota constantly scrambling for his life and their running game sputtering, the Ducks put immense pressure on their mediocre defense and their Heisman candidate for the second consecutive game. Against Washington State, Oregon did enough to survive. Against Arizona on Thursday night, the Ducks didn’t. As a result, the nation's No. 2 team fell, 31-24, shaking up the early college football playoff conversation and the Pac-12 standings.
A late strip and steal of Mariota by Scooby Wright III sealed the game for the Wildcats and encapsulated the problems the Ducks have had early this season. Mariota is phenomenal, but no quarterback can overcome a porous offensive line. Arizona benefited from a late unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on third down of the previous possession, which it converted into a Terris Jones-Grigsby touchdown to put the Wildcats up for good with 2:54 remaining.
Here are three quick thoughts from Thursday's big upset:
1. Oregon's offensive line is a serious problem
The Oregon offensive line has moved from the elevated risk level up to a red alert. This is a real problem for the Ducks, and it isn’t showing any signs of getting better. We could have chalked up the Washington State game to black magic or an off night, but the line didn't look any better on Thursday. Plays collapsed on Mariota while the running backs didn’t have any lanes to run through. Oregon’s offense can’t work if it can’t run the football, and we saw what happens when the Ducks sputter. If they looked like this against Wazzu and Arizona, what are they going to look like against UCLA, Washington or Stanford?
Arizona constantly got pressure, picking up five sacks even though the team had only recorded six in its first four games. That pressure bothered Mariota, who committed his first two turnovers of the season. We’re so used to seeing Mariota make superhuman plays that we expect him to seamlessly elude pressure and always make the right decision. But when any quarterback’s inner clock is sped up and he can’t feel defenders bearing down on him from the blind side ... that's when bad things happen.
2. No D in Ducksday and gave up 28 points in the second half. Considering the penalties (some questionable, some not), the poor tackling and the big holes the Ducks were allowing the Arizona backs to run through, this was a poor effort all around.
3. Hey Mr. Willlllllsooonnnn!
Nick Wilson keeps getting better. The freshman runs hard and with purpose, and on Thursday he racked up 92 rushing yards, 34 receiving yards and three scores against the Ducks. He now has 572 rushing yards on the year and bounced back in a big way after putting up just 33 against Cal on Sept. 20 (although he can be excused a bit as that was a more aerial game).
The one-two punch Arizona has been able to develop with Wilson and Jones-Grigsby (115 rush yards, 95 receiving yards) has to make Rich Rodriguez smile. They’re a big part of why Arizona is 5-0 (2-0 Pac-12) and why freshman quarterback Anu Solomon has been able to start to get more comfortable. That offense is for real.