Ryan Finley and Maxx Wolfson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wildcats drop first conference game of season
For the first time in the 2000 season, a contest involving Arizona lived up to its pre-game hype.
The UA football team, attempting to defeat No. 7 Oregon and their 18-game home winning streak, failed to restart a sputtering offense in time to overcome UO's defense.
The Wildcats, which trailed 14-0 at one point in the second quarter, rallied but eventually fell to the Ducks, 14-10.
It was UA's fifth-straight loss at UO's Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.
Despite trailing for the duration of the defense-heavy game, the Wildcats had a chance to win on the game's final drive.
On a drive that started on their own 10 yard line, fifth-year senior quarterback Ortege Jenkins connected with senior wide receiver Brad Brennan on three straight pass plays for 44 yards, bringing UA to Oregon's 36 yard line.
After three unsuccessful plays - one where it appeared Brennan was face-guarded by a Duck defender - the Wildcats were forced into a last-ditch attempt at a victory.
On fourth-and-10 from the 36, Jenkins threw a "Hail Mary" to the left side of the end zone as time ran out. The pass was batted down by a UO defender to give Oregon the victory.
"I think we spilled our guts everywhere," UA head coach Dick Tomey said. "I think we got a lot of heart - we just didn't quite play well enough to get it done. We had every chance in the world."
The victory puts the No. 7 Ducks (6-1 overall, 4-0 Pacific 10 Conference) in a position to be able to control their own destiny for the Rose Bowl.
"We're in the driver's seat, but we also have a bull's-eye on our back, " UO head coach Mike Bellotti told the Associated Press.
The Wildcats' hopes for a Rose Bowl berth now rest in the hands of Oregon, the only remaining undefeated team in the Pac-10.
The Wildcats' running game - an integral part of the team's success against Stanford, USC, and Washington State earlier this season - was virtually nonexistent in the loss. UA was stifled by Oregon's defense, which sits atop the Pac-10 in total defense. .
UA (5-2, 3-1) had trouble getting the ground attack going all night, gaining only 17 yards on 32 carries.
The combination of running backs freshman Clarence Farmer and sophomores Larry Croom and Leo Mills, only had a total of 11 carries between the three.
"It was just a struggle to find yards for both of us," Tomey said. "They ganged up on us, they were able to man up our receivers, they played man-to-man on the outside and we weren't capable enough to get open consistently which gives them a chance to ball up guys on the run game."
The Ducks - specifically senior wide receiver Marshaun Tucker - were able to jump on the Wildcats early in the first quarter.
UO quarterback Joey Harrington connected with Tucker for both the Ducks' touchdowns.
Midway through the first quarter, Harrington hit the senior on a 25-yard diving catch to give Oregon an early 7-0 lead.
After trading punts for the better part of the second quarter, the Wildcats made an offensive mistake that would make the difference in the game.
Oregon free safety Rasuli Webster intercepted an errant Jenkins pass on Arizona's 22 yard line, setting up the Ducks' a second Harrington-to-Tucker connection with 7:08 left in the second quarter.
The UO defense put pressure on Jenkins throughout the whole game, sacking the quarterback eight times.
"We got whipped up front," Tomey said. "Obviously, when you rush for 17 yards and get sacked a bunch of times, you're not playing very well up front."
The Wildcats' offensive line was shaky at times - playing without injured senior center Bruce Wiggins, Arizona seemed intimidated by the Ducks' stifling pass rush.
UA did manage a pair of scores - a 58-yard pass to Croom and a 34-yard field goal by sophomore Sean Keel put the Wildcats within four points at halftime.
Both offenses sputtered in the second half and no points were scored.
It was injuries, however, that may have a more lasting effect on UA than the loss itself.
At one point, injuries to junior Brandon Nash and freshmen Clay Hardt and Michael Jolivette left the Wildcats with just three defensive backs.
Jolivette, who was named the Pac-10's defensive player of the week two weeks ago, was injured by UO's Wesly Mallard while on punt coverage in the first quarter.
The hit - which knocked the freshman's helmet off - loosened some of Jolivette's teeth and forced the him to miss the rest of the game following a trip to the hospital.
Jolivette - UA's most productive defensive back so far this season - required 11 stitches and will play next week, Tomey said.
"Michael's a very courageous young man," Tomey said. "The blow he took was really malicious. I don't think they purposely went after him. It was one of those plays where.... they took a shot at him with the top of their helmet."