TUCSON, Ariz. — Justin Herbert had a miserable experience here.
And Oregon’s quarterback is in good company.
The 19th-ranked Ducks were ghastly on offense, gassed on defense and committed several gaffes on special teams during a baffling 44-15 loss to Arizona on Saturday in front of a homecoming crowd of 42,845 at Arizona Stadium.
Herbert finished 24-for-48 passing for 186 yards with two touchdowns and an interception on the same field where Dennis Dixon’s Heisman Trophy campaign ended in 2007 with a knee injury and where a hobbled Marcus Mariota suffered a 26-point loss in 2013.
"The bottom line is it’s not anywhere near a performance that’s good enough for us or what we’ve become accustomed to," first-year Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said.
Oregon, which fell behind 27-0 at halftime before showing some fight in a 34-20 loss at Washington State a week earlier, didn’t offer much resistance throughout four sloppy quarters on a dark desert night.
The Ducks (5-3, 2-3) managed to lose ground in the North Division race on a day when Washington and Stanford both lost.
Mike Leach’s Cougars (7-1, 4-1) are now Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott’s best hope for representation in the College Football Playoff.
The Wildcats (4-5, 3-3) had been struggling in Kevin Sumlin’s first season as coach, only mustering wins over Southern Utah, Oregon State and California before roasting Cristobal’s uninspired Ducks.
Arizona outgained Oregon 465-270 in total yards. The Ducks were 3-for-16 on third-down conversions while the Wildcats were 8-for-18.
Khalil Tate, who did not play in the Wildcats’ 31-30 loss at UCLA, passed for 189 yards and three touchdowns.
"He’s a tremendous competitor, no question about it," Cristobal said of Tate. "He throws the ball well. He throws the ball a lot better than what people give him credit for. He’s a dynamic athlete and the threat of him taking off with the ball is always something you have to take into account. He played a heck of a game."
Arizona’s defense ranked 103d in rushing yards allowed (195.9 ypg) before holding Oregon to 84 yards on 23 carries.
Jim Leavitt’s shorthanded defense gave Herbert and Co. opportunities to make a comeback.
Thomas Graham intercepted Tate on the first play of the third quarter, but Oregon’s offense went three-and-out.
After a 64-yard run by J.J. Taylor, his longest of the season, Tate threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Shawn Poindexter to make the score 30-8 with 10:30 remaining in the third quarter.
"I think he’s just a good running back, found space and got away," said Oregon defensive end Gary Baker, who made the start for the injured Austin Faoliu.
Arizona had to punt from deep inside its own territory, but the football bounced off an unsuspecting Charles Sudduth and was recovered by the Wildcats.
Tate threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Poindexter moments later to extend the lead to 37-8.
Following a 27-yard touchdown pass from Tate to Shun Brown, the Wildcats were called for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties — one on Brown and another on Sumlin — and kicked off from their own 10-yard line.
Dillon Mitchell left the game in the second half after taking a vicious hit by Tristan Cooper with 6:48 remaining in the third quarter. Oregon’s No. 1 wide receiver finished with six catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Herbert threw a 7-yard pass to Brenden Schooler, which may have been intended for tight end Jacob Breeland, which made the score 37-15 with 9:17 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Taylor, who eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the season, hurdled into the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown with 3:32 left. The 5-foot-6, 184-pound sophomore finished with 212 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 30 attempts.
Herbert took a hard hit at the goal line in the final minute and then threw an interception in the end zone on fourth down at the 1-yard line.
"I can't really pinpoint what's going on right now," Schooler said.
But the tone for the debacle was set hours earlier.
Oregon trailed 10-0 at the end of the first quarter after the offense’s six drives ended with four punts and two turnovers.
Leavitt was missing three starters, and Tate took advantage of a busted coverage on a 22-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Poindexter to stake the Wildcats to a 7-0 head start.
Tony Brooks-James fumbled the ensuing kickoff but the Ducks recovered at their own 12-yard line.
True freshman Travis Dye fumbled, and Arizona took over at the Oregon 21-yard line. The Ducks were able to limit the damage to a 34-yard field goal by Josh Pollack.
Deommodore Lenoir and Graham each had a pass breakup on third down to end drives by the Wildcats and keep the visitors within striking distance.
Herbert was intercepted by free safety Scottie Young, ending his streak of consecutive passes without a pick in Pac-12 road games at 215, which led to another field goal.
Oregon’s defense forced Arizona to settle for yet another field goal after Tom Snee had a punt blocked. Pollack’s 23-yard chip shot capped a four-play, 1-yard drive to make the score 16-0 with 11:30 remaining in the second quarter.
Herbert finally moved the chains with a 20-yard scamper on a third-and-9 and then connected with Mitchell for a 29-yard touchdown. Herbert ran for a two-point conversion to cut Oregon’s deficit to 16-8.
But the Wildcats answered with an 18-play, 88-yard drive that chewed 7:30 off the clock and was punctuated by a 1-yard touchdown run by Taylor.
Oregon will have to regroup before facing Chip Kelly’s UCLA Bruins in what will certainly be a matchup of unranked teams next Saturday at Autzen Stadium (4:30 p.m., Fox).
"You’re always going to find out a ton about yourself when you take one like this," Cristobal said. "We did a lot of things right to prepare for this game and it didn’t translate into what we wanted to. So that’s hard to take"