TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona got off to a great start under new coach Rich Rodriguez, following a tight opening win with a pair of routs.
There were flaws, to be sure, but the Wildcats managed to overcome those and climb up the rankings.
They couldn't Saturday night in Eugene.
Plagued by mistakes near the goal line and unable to keep up with Oregon's speed or depth, Arizona was blown out 49-0 by the Ducks in its Pac-12 opener.
Oregon moved up a spot to No. 2 in The Associated Press poll after the win and Arizona dropped out from No. 22, left with plenty to work on with a schedule that isn't going to get much easier from here.
"There were situations where Oregon beat us, but then there were situations where we beat us," Rodriguez said. "The ones where we beat us, we've got to fix in a hurry."
He's got that right.
Up next for Arizona (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) is surprising Oregon State, which entered the poll at No. 18 after beating Wisconsin and UCLA, two ranked teams. After the Beavers, the Wildcats have a bye week and will still have to play No. 13 Southern California, No. 8 Stanford, UCLA and rival Arizona State.
One priority heading into the Oregon State game will be to get better in the red zone.
In other words, find a way to score when they get inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Arizona had been decent in the red zone the first three games, scoring on 16 of 20 trips.
Against Oregon, the Wildcats were able to move the ball, but couldn't finish off drives.
Arizona lost one chance when field goal holder Kyle Dugandzic couldn't handle a high snap, another when kicker John Bonano sent a low kick into the back of his linemen. Matt Scott also threw an interception in the red zone and the Wildcats turned it over on downs when running back Ka'Deem Carey was stuffed on a fourth-and-goal from the 2.
When it was over, Arizona had finished 0-for-6, blowing any chance it had of keeping up with the fast-and-furious Ducks.
"Every time you're in the red zone you expect to score and we just couldn't make it happen," Scott said. "We couldn't finish drives and we couldn't execute. It hurts, our defense came up with big stops and we couldn't capitalize on those."
Scott had been one of the top offensive players in the country through the first three games, but never seemed to get in synch against Oregon. The fifth-year senior completed 22 of 44 passes for 210 yards and had three interceptions, including one that Ifo Ekpre-Olomu ran back 54 yards for a touchdown.
Part of it was that Scott got pinballed around early in the game.
Normally a threat to break off big runs, he was limited after getting banged up early, paring down what the Wildcats could run offensively.
"We weren't trying to run him a lot anyway, but after the first quarter, we couldn't do things that we normally would do with Matt," Rodriguez said. "That was in the second or third series, but after that, we didn't have any other quarterback thoughts of trying to run the ball with him. We were trying to protect him."
A bad week of practice didn't help the Wildcats.
Rodriguez called his team the worst-conditioned in the country when he arrived in the desert. Part of it was his always-on-the-go system requires players to be in better shape than on teams that play at a slower pace, but also because the players had taken off two months of working out hard, in Rodriguez's estimation, at the end of the previous season.
With Rodriguez and the coaches constantly pushing them, the Wildcats were in much better shape for fall camp and had been working hard in practice, all the way through the first three games.
Last week, despite facing its biggest game of the season, Arizona only had a so-so week of practice. Rodriguez said he thought the team's preparation was still good, but the players didn't quite live up to the high standards he and the coaches have for practices.
"We have to put it behind us and move on and have a great week of practice this week," center Kyle Quinn said. "I can't find one reason we didn't practice well last week, so, like I said, we just have to put it all behind us and get ready for Oregon State."
They better or it could be another long Saturday night against a team from Oregon.