by Rob Moseley
TUCSON, Ariz. — The route was one Bralon Addison had run hundreds of times in practice and many times already this season. He would run it several times without issue later Saturday.
On Oregon's first play from scrimmage at Arizona, Addison ran a little route to the sideline, and Marcus Mariota saw him open. Mariota's pass was on target, but bounced off Addison. An Arizona defender leaped out of bounds to tip the football back toward the field, where a teammate caught it.
With that SportsCenter top-10 moment, Mariota's Pac-12 record streak of passes without an interception was over at 353. In hindsight, it felt a little like the game was over at that point too, as the Wildcats went on to stun the No. 5 Ducks, 42-16.
"The ball came in kind of low, and I just didn't focus on it," Addison said. "I tried to turn and run too fast, and it slipped out of my arms. And they made a play on it.
"From that moment on, we kept talking that it was just one play, and we had to keep playing. But it seemed like everything was going in their favor."
The litany of plays Arizona made — and Oregon didn't — started with that drop by Addison, and grew longer and longer over the course of the afternoon. There was another drop, by De'Anthony Thomas, to end the Ducks' second drive. A holding penalty that negated a Mariota rushing touchdown. A fumble by freshman running back Thomas Tyner. Seven third-down conversions by the Arizona offense, on nine attempts.
And that was just in the first half.
Ultimately, the Ducks and Wildcats finished with about the same number of plays (80-87), and total yards (506-482). But Arizona's success on third down, and Oregon's failures in the red zone and turnover margin, illustrated the way one team showed up and executed Saturday, and the other did not.
"It hurts," said Mariota, who finished 27-of-41 for 308 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, suffering an apparent head injury after the second. "I've never been blown out like this before in my life."
Indeed, this was on par with some of the most humbling defeats in Oregon's recent history, including the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl, or the 2004 loss to Indiana at home, depending on which UO fan you ask. Defeats have been few a far between for the Ducks the last few years, and never to double-digit underdogs, as the Wildcats were.
"It's a punch in the gut, no question about that," UO coach Mark Helfrich said.
Oregon's failures offensively in the first quarter — the drops by Addison and Thomas, and the penalty that negated the touchdown — allowed Arizona to establish its running game.
Ka'Deem Carey ran for 206 yards and four touchdowns on the afternoon, and quarterback B.J. Denker added 102 — against a UO defense, it should be noted, that played without starting nose guard Wade Keliikipi, and saw backup Ricky Havili-Heimuli leave with a lower leg injury.
Denker also went 19-of-22 for 178 yards and two scores through the air, completing his first four attempts on third down. UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said the Ducks failed to execute their main defensive goals — stopping Carey and Denker on the ground — which only served to soften them up through the air, too.
"(Denker) did a really good job against us, was able on those key third downs to make those plays," UO senior defensive end Taylor Hart said. "I was hoping we could stop him, but he did a real good job."
The UO defense buckled down after halftime, making two straight stops with the score still 28-9. But the offense turned it over on downs in the red zone — on an incomplete fade route, just like at Stanford — and then went three-and-out.
Like the defense, the offense played most of Saturday without a key starter, running back Byron Marshall, due to an ankle injury. But Oregon's issues were bigger than any one player.
"Sometimes when you miss those opportunities, you don't get in a rhythm," Mariota said.
"This offense is very rhythm-based, and if you can't get the ball down the field you put a lot of strain on your defense."
Not unlike the Ducks' other defeat this season, at Stanford, Oregon never could grab momentum. This was the third time in four games the Ducks trailed or were tied at halftime, but unlike home games against UCLA and Utah, the struggles continued after halftime.
"Road games, when you start off slow it's really hard to come back and pick the tempo back up," Thomas said.
First-year Oregon coach Mark Helfrich called the early lapses "100 percent my fault."
"I have to figure out exactly which levers to pull and which buttons to push," Helfrich said.
His answer regarding the defense's third down issues was similar.
"We just have to coach them better, coach them harder," Helfrich said. "Find the right buttons to get them off the field."
A return home for the Civil War looms, and the way this first season of the Helfrich era is remembered may hinge on his ability to find those buttons in the next few days.