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SANTA CLARA, Calif. – From a fumbled kickoff the first time Arizona touched the ball, the Wildcats never got off the ground in the Pac-12 championship game.
Marcus Mariota ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more scores, and No. 3 Oregon's defense shut down the eighth-ranked Wildcats in a 51-13 rout Friday night.
"They played well, we didn't," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Outcoached us, outplayed us. They did a nice job. We didn't execute well."
After coming into the game with hopes of vaulting from seventh into the top four of the College Football Playoff standings and a spot in the national semifinals, the Wildcats (10-3) now must wait until Sunday to find out if they can make a major bowl following the lopsided loss to the Ducks (12-1, No. 2 CFP).
Arizona must hope that winning the ultra-tough Pac-12 South division that featured four teams in this week's AP poll is enough to overcome the poor performance on the big stage of the conference title game.
"It could be the toughest division in college football," Rodriguez said. "I'm proud that we did that. We should be in a very, very good bowl."
It was quite a turnaround from the last meeting between these teams, when Arizona held the Ducks to a season-low 144 yards rushing in a 31-24 road win on Oct. 2. The Wildcats also sacked Mariota five times and forced two fumbles in that game.
This time, Mariota completed 25 of 38 passes and ran for 33 yards on 10 carries. He extended his conference record to 53 touchdowns this season — 38 passing, 14 rushing and one receiving.
"This is a huge accomplishment for us," Mariota said. "Now we need to continue to improve and get better for whoever comes next."
Arizona gained just 25 yards on 25 plays in the first half, and starting quarterback Anu Solomon got benched at halftime after struggling with a nagging ankle injury.
Backup quarterback Jesse Scroggins threw a 69-yard TD pass to Cayleb Jones in the third quarter and third-string quarterback Jerrard Randall scored on a 25-yard run on the final play, but it was far too late for the Wildcats.
"It was just us not being on the same page," Solomon said. "If I'm not doing well, it all starts with me, and that's just what happened today."
Solomon completed six of 12 passes for 34 yards and lost 23 yards on six carries before being replaced at halftime. By then it was too late, and Rodriguez's scrunched face on the sideline exemplified his team's frustrations.
On a rainy night in Silicon Valley, Oregon wiped out the Wildcats in front of a sparse but rowdy pro-Ducks crowd — announced as 45,618 — that sprinkled the red seats at the $1.3 billion Levi's Stadium bright yellow and green.
Mariota boosted his Heisman Trophy credentials as the Ducks turned the patchy field into their personal playground.
Oregon outgained Arizona 617 yards to 224. The Ducks ran for 301 yards and held the Wildcats to 111 on the ground as the tone was set soon after Tyrell Johnson fumbled on a kickoff return after Aidan Schneider kicked a 34-yard field goal on Oregon's opening possession.
The Wildcats held Mariota and the Ducks in check for a while, trailing just 13-0 until late in the second quarter. But Mariota's second TD run and a late field goal made it 23-0 at halftime and the rout was on.
"Couldn't get any first downs on offense, so the defense had to go back out there," Rodriguez said. "We know it's an up-tempo team, so our guys are in pretty good shape. But still, when you're having to go out that many times, 57 snaps or whatever it was in the first half, with that type of offense, they're going to get theirs."
Oregon settled for four field-goal tries — making three — in the first half. The Ducks also finished with 12 penalties for 74 yards, including a holding penalty that erased Royce Freeman's 37-yard TD run and back-to-back false starts that pushed back the failed field-goal attempt in the second quarter.
None of that mattered in the end.
"There are a bunch of big smiles, and I'm proud of that," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.