Arizona football: Four-quarter Cats put it together vs. Oregon

Khalil Tate returned at quarterback after sitting out last week.Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

QB Khalil Tate: 'This is the first time we played four quarters'

This is Arizona. This is Arizona?

We've seen a glimpse of goodness here, a ray of sunshine there, but not enough from the Arizona Wildcats football team to justify reasonably optimistic preseason expectations. Not enough to provide a winning record. Not enough to offer hope in a rapidly dwindling regular season.

And then came Homecoming against Oregon on Saturday night.

Clearly, the Wildcats had been sitting on a theme.

"We really talked about four quarters," first-year Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said after a 44-15 victory over Oregon on Saturday night.

"We had played pretty well in two quarters of games, the second half of games, during three quarters of games. But we talked about playing four quarters and seeing what happens."

That was evident from the start.

Yeah... this is Arizona?

The game started with the Arizona's defense showing its best energy of the season, flying around and forcing Oregon to three consecutive three-and-outs and then forcing the first of its three turnovers.

The game ended with running back JJ Taylor leaping into the end zone over a defender with 3:32 to go to finish off his 212-yard rushing night. Completely fitting since the author of the most famous leap in Arizona history -- quarterback Ortege Jenkins -- was at Arizona Stadium as part of the 20-year reunion of the school's 12-1 team.

"You don't have to be perfect, but playing four quarters ... we did that," Sumlin said.

In all three phases.

Offense: The big news was the return of quarterback Khalil Tate from an ankle injury that kept him out of last week's 31-30 loss at UCLA. He didn't thrill with his legs, and seemed to miss some opportunities to pull the ball and run, but he was efficient: 19 of 33 for 189 yards, with three TDS and one interception.

Sounds like Tate has been listening, too, repeating the theme.

"This is the first time we played four quarters, and it showed," he said.

Arizona worked the perimeter passing game early, which Sumlin said opened up things in the running game for Taylor, who posted his second 200-yard game of the season.

Defense: The Wildcats made Oregon's Justin Herbert -- the favorite of NFL scouting-types to be the top quarterback selected in the 2019 NFL Draft should he leave school early -- look like a third-stringer from Oregon State.

He completed 24 of 48 passes for 186 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. Arizona defensive backs got hands on six more of his throws to break up passes.

"I thought we rushed the passer pretty well, made him a little bit uncomfortable," Sumlin said.

"Because when he has time, he's something else. But if you can move him around just a little bit off the spot, that's what we wanted to do -- force him to not be comfortable. I thought our defense did that."

Special teams: Chacho Ulloa blocked a punt in the second quarter, leading to an Arizona field goal; the Cats recovered a fumble after their punt hit an Oregon blocker; Josh Pollack made all three of his field goal attempts (34, 32, 23 yards); Shun Brown had a 24-yard punt return.

Brown's highlight, though, came in the third quarter when he caught a 27-yard touchdown pass, was arguably hit late by an Oregon defender and skidded into a pose while on the ground, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, followed by another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Sumlin for going onto the field to complain about the lack of a flag against the Ducks.

All night long, these Wildcats -- this is Arizona? -- were a lot sassy, posing, gesturing, jumping, screaming. To use an old Rich Rodriguez saying, it's like they actually played with a "hard edge." To go back even further, it's almost as if the defense was swarming.

Arizona is 4-5 overall, 3-3 in the Pac-12, with a Friday night home game coming up against Colorado, which just lost at home to Oregon State. After that is a bye, a trip to Washington State and the regular-season finale against Arizona State at home.

You thinking bowl game at 6-6?

"We've got to stay hungry, too, and understand we've got a lot of football left to play against other good teams," Sumlin said. "Can we follow that up is the next challenge."