EUGENE — For the second time in as many weeks, Oregon played down to its vastly overmatched and inferior opponent. Only this time, the No. 3 Ducks kept around an Arizona team that had lost 15 straight games dating back 721 days in a one-score game with less than nine minutes to play.
The winless and rebuilding Wildcats controlled the game, sustaining six drives of 10-plus plays and dominated time of possession while out-gaining Oregon in the air and on the ground, converting 7 of 15 third downs and four fourth downs on as many tries.
Anthony Brown Jr. threw for 206 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 41 yards, and Bennett Williams had two of five interceptions for No. 3 Oregon’s defense, which was pushed around along the line of scrimmage by the worst team in the Pac-12 in a 41-19 win Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.
“When you’re in conference play, all these games are playoff games,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “You’ve got to understand if you have got a chance to really take the momentum, you’ve got to take it because all these teams have really good football players and if you allow a team to continually make plays and get in there you can find yourself in a dogfight.
“Credit to Arizona and their coaches and their players. They played a real tough game. But in the fourth quarter is when we felt we finally took control of the game and closed it out.”
The Ducks (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) took a 10-0 lead just over four minutes into the game and led 24-7 with 9:59 to go in the first half.
An Arizona field goal in the second quarter combined with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by UO’s Kris Hutson that derailed Oregon’s final possession of the half made it 24-10 at the break.
The Wildcats (0-4, 0-1 Pac-12) extended their scoring streak to 12 straight points to get back within 24-19 after the third quarter thanks to a safety and Drake Anderson 1-yard touchdown run that capped a 12-play, 71-yard drive. It was the fifth of six drives spanning at least 10 plays for Arizona, which had a 27-8 advantage in plays during the frame and held the ball for over 12 minutes during the third.
“They were on the field for 80-plus plays, which is way too much,” Cristobal said. “We’ve got to do a better job controlling the football. ... There’s too many inconsistencies in the middle (of the game) there that we should be and can be better at.”
Brown effectively ended the game with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Webb to make it 34-19 with 8:26 to go. Williams added a 68-yard interception return touchdown just 1:22 later.
Brown said Oregon can improve its focus during games to put together more consistent performances.
“Taking it play by play, not thinking of what’s going to happen next or what’s just happened in the previous play,” he said. “Taking that step and us taking that maturity step to, I would say, progress with that.”
For the fourth straight game, Oregon’s run defense had issues against 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends). Despite having strong-side linebacker Mase Funa and weak-side linebacker Keith Brown back in the starting lineup and Kayvon Thibodeaux back for a portion of the first half, the Ducks still allowed 202 rushing yards.
Oregon’s secondary once again saved the day, with five interceptions. Williams had two, including one returned for a touchdown to seal the win, and Verone McKinley III, Mykael Wright and Nate Heaukulani each had one.
Top performances: Bennett Williams had eight tackles and two interceptions.
Key contributors: Brown was 10 of 21 for 206 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 41 yards. CJ Verdell had 11 carries for 45 yards and a touchdown. Travis Dye had five carries for 92 yards and a 22-yard catch. Noah Sewell had 14 tackles.
Injury updates: Thibodeaux appeared for the first time since spraining his left ankle in the first half of the win against Fresno State. He came in late during the first quarter and played during the second quarter but left because of what Cristobal called load management.
Key play: Brown’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Webb made it 34-19 with 8:26 to go.
It was over when: Williams returned his second interception 68 yards for a touchdown.
Next up: Oregon travels to Stanford (2-2, 1-1 Pac-12) on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on ABC.