- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- If you wanted to floridly imagine a cosmic wrath exacted on Oregon on Saturday by the slighted Rose Bowl in Arizona's 42-16 whipping of the Ducks, you would note that the Wildcats were clad head-to-toe in rosy red while they posted their first win over a top-five team since 2007.
It would be ridiculous, of course, to further belabor De'Anthony Thomas' and Josh Huff's controversial musings last week about not being excited about the possibility of playing in the Rose Bowl because they had their sights set on the national title game, but the karmic symmetry is impossible to ignore.
Turn your nose up at the Granddaddy? Fine, how do you feel about the Alamo Bowl? Or maybe even something a little lower on the Pac-12 bowl pecking order?
"The way that was phrased is not representative of the way anybody feels," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "That had nothing at all to do with this."
Completely true. What did matter was the Wildcats playing an outstanding game in all three phases and the Ducks looking sloppy and uninterested while getting thrashed.
"Very sluggish in every phase. That's 100 percent my fault," Helfrich said. "I have to figure out exactly which levers to pull and buttons to push."
There were a lot of notable negative landmarks for Oregon. This was the Ducks' first loss to an unranked team since 2009. The 26-point margin of defeat was their biggest since losing 44-10 to USC in 2008. After four consecutive BCS bowl berths, the Ducks will be playing before the New Year this postseason. Stanford wins the North Division for the second consecutive year.
Further, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota threw his first two interceptions of the season. The first came on the Ducks' opening offensive play, and it set the tone for the game. It was a catchable ball that bounced off sure-handed Bralon Addison along the sideline and was then redirected in bounds by Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson into the waiting hands of freshman linebacker Scooby Wright.
It was a fortuitous bit of playmaking, something the Wildcats had a surfeit of, while the normally fancypants Ducks seemed to be all thumbs.
"Everything went right today," Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker said.
Denker, who began the season looking like the worst quarterback in the Pac-12, is now perhaps the most improved player in the Pac-12. He was nothing short of brilliant Saturday, completing 19 of 22 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions and rushing for 102 yards on 14 carries. But top billing for Arizona goes to running back Ka'Deem Carey, who might need a second look from Heisman Trophy voters.
Carey rushed for 206 yards and four touchdowns. It was his 14th consecutive 100-yard-plus rushing game, an active streak that now is tied for longest by an FBS player over the past 10 seasons (Jerome Harrison, 2004-05)
His 48 carries is a new school record and the most so far this season by any FBS running back. All those carries, by the way, produced just two lost yards. Further, Carey, a junior, became Arizona's career rushing leader with 3,913 yards, eclipsing Trung Canidate (1996-99). He also set a new school record for career touchdowns with 49, surpassing Art Luppino (1953-56).
"I think he's the best back in the country," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.
The Wildcats scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, converting on all eight of their third-down plays. But it wasn't just the offense. The Wildcats defense, which was atrocious a year ago, held the Ducks to their lowest point total this season. Crucially, Arizona won the turnover battle 3-0.
The Wildcats defense was at its best at important moments. Oregon had a first-and-goal on the Arizona 9-yard line in the first quarter but netted only a field goal. The Wildcats held the Ducks on a fourth-and-2 play on their 41 with one minute before halftime, which ended up producing a quick Arizona touchdown drive for a 28-9 lead at the break. They stopped Oregon on a fourth-and-2 play from their 6-yard line in the third quarter. They intercepted Mariota on a second-and-1 play from their 13 in the fourth.
"We were really dialed in the whole game," a perky Rodriguez told reporters.
The opposite could be said for Oregon.
"No energy," Huff said. "Arizona played with a lot of emotion."
The Ducks were plagued by four dropped passes and drive-killing penalties. Despite seeing his Pac-12 record streak of 353 consecutive pass attempts without an interception end, Mariota played well. He completed 27 of 41 passes with two touchdowns, and his sprained knee seemed much better as he rushed for 52 yards and wasn't sacked.
Still, the loss surely will end his Heisman Trophy candidacy.
"It hurts," Mariota said about the loss, not the Heisman slippage. "I have never been blown out like this before in my life."
None of the current Oregon players have, at least while wearing a Ducks uniform. That's why the loss seems stunning and represents a bigger crisis for Helfrich in his first season than the lackluster showing at Stanford. He admitted there needs to be some "inward looking" throughout the program.
"We have a bunch of guys who are very hurt in that locker room right now," Helfrich said.
The question now no longer centers on the Rose Bowl or any BCS bowl. That possibility is done for. It's only about a Civil War matchup on Friday with Oregon State. It's about showing pride.