Arizona Football

Unbeaten Arizona Wildcats team with high national aspirations following historic win at No. 2 Oregon



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After one of the most significant plays in the program’s history, the Arizona Wildcats achieved their greatest win in the last 33 years last night.

The echoes of Arizona’s upset of No. 1 USC and Marcus Allen in 1981 at the Los Angeles Coliseum were as loud as thunder when the Wildcats celebrated at Autzen Stadium.

Arizona beat Cal on a Hail Mary pass from Anu Solomon to Austin Hill 12 days previously. They made Oregon pray for its national championship hopes after beating the No. 2 Ducks 31-24 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.

Arizona (5-0) is the team that actually has a prayer now for a significant postseason with national implications.

The unbeaten Wildcats — who traded punches with Oregon before knocking out the Ducks in the last two minutes — own the most noteworthy victory to date in college football against the team that had one of the previous best victories, over then-No. 10 Michigan State in Eugene on Sept. 6.

“They held their ground when we started to get tempo,” said Oregon running back Royce Freeman of Arizona. “They are a very physical team.’

If this was college basketball, Arizona would be in the realm of the top four in RPI with the monumental win over the Ducks, who have been the standard-bearers of the Pac-12 since Chip Kelly was hired as Oregon’s offensive coordinator in 2007.

The most asked question last night, other than how linebacker Scooby Wright got his name, is where Arizona will be ranked come Sunday. When No. 16 USC travels to Tucson on Oct. 11, it could be a showcase game of two Top 15 programs.


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That kind of matchup at Arizona Stadium has not happened since 1998, when No. 13 Arizona beat No. 12 Oregon 38-3 on Halloween Day. That season coincidentally was the last time Arizona started 5-0 en route to a 12-1 season. The program’s best start is 7-0 in 1993, when Arizona and its famed Desert Swarm defense finished 10-2 with a dominating 29-0 win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.

From Desert Swarm to Scooby, the nicknames may not match on the intimidation scale, but Wright’s dogged ways (no pun intended … OK, maybe a little) are the same that Arizona fans saw from linebackers Brant Boyer and Sean Harris in 1992 and 1993.

Wright, the Pac-12’s leading tackler, had seven tackles, none more important than the sack of Oregon Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota late in the fourth quarter. Mariota, who had not committed a turnover this season, was stripped of the ball by Wright, who recovered with 2:11 left to put the Ducks away.


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“It was a good play by him, honestly,” said Mariota, one of college football’s classiest players who faced the media afterward after mingling with young fans on the field. “They ran a coverage that we weren’t really expecting on that and I was just trying to make a play.

“My instinct is always leave the ball low and he made a good play. He just kind of stripped it from me.”

That was a deja vu moment from last year’s 42-16 rout of Oregon in Tucson. Wright opened the game with an interception of Mariota in a highlight reel play in which Shaquille Richardson saved the ball to Wright in a circus play near the sideline. It was the first time Mariota was intercepted last year.

Arizona hung tough because of Wright and its defense. Oregon led by only 7-3 at halftime. The Wildcats, who sacked Mariota five times, did not allow the game to slip away as was the case in other games against the Ducks in Eugene. Two years ago, in Rodriguez’s first season at Arizona, the Wildcats lost 49-0.

Since the upset of No. 1 USC in 1981, Arizona lost 11 straight games to No. 5 teams on the road by an average margin of 29 points.

“I’m really proud of our players,” Rodriguez told ESPN after last night’s game. “The defense really came to play. They kept us in the game the whole first half. They played really hard against some talented players.”

Rodriguez, who was criticized in Michigan for not winning because he is not a “Michigan Man”, is a man of the nation right now. Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic Tweeted at the start of the fourth quarter: “RichRod 15 min away from becoming hottest coach in America … for second time in his career.” Rodriguez contributed to West Virginia being a power nationally before taking the Michigan job in 2008.

Now we know Arizona is 5-0 not because of its non-conference schedule consisting of UNLV, Texas-San Antonio and Nevada. The reason: Arizona’s coaching and its leadership from guys such as Anu Solomon and Wright, who don’t know what it’s like to be shaken at Autzen Stadium.

They achieved the historic win by following a trend that Rodriguez hopes is sustained throughout the season: Winning the second half.

Arizona outscored Cal 36-14 in the fourth quarter to win last week’s game 49-45, capped by the Hail Mary. Arizona outscored Oregon 28-17 in the second half last night, including a significant 21-7 swing in the third quarter.

Being a Wildcat follower since the early 1970s, I can not recall a two-game glory ride (especially in front of a national audience) as Arizona has experienced against Cal and Oregon. Next up is USC in Tucson, the best-case scenario for Rodriguez with his team coming off such a high in Eugene. USC is USC. It will have Arizona’s undivided attention more so than if it was Colorado.

When asked by ESPN what a 5-0 start means to Rodriguez’s campaign to make Arizona relevant again: “It means we’re capable of winning a great game on the road.”

Rodriguez, a country boy from West Virginia, is so matter-of-fact. That’s what Arizona needs if it is to make the win over Oregon mean something by season’s end. publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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