Pullman, WA (SportsNetwork.com) – Two teams coming off of byes meet in a
Pac-12 Conference duel on Saturday, as the 15th-ranked Arizona Wildcats face
off against the Washington State Cougars at Martin Stadium.
Arizona probably needed a week off following a 28-26 loss at home to USC in
Week 7 action. The Wildcats had ascended into the top-10 following a stunning
31-24 upset of then No. 2 Oregon, but the letdown against the Trojans was a
major one. The bye was also needed considering the Wildcats, who are 5-1
overall and 2-1 in league play, have played five straight games decided by
seven or fewer points.
“I think our guys understand now that playing 60 minutes is truly what we have
to do. I don’t remember a stretch of my career that we’ve had five straight
games that have literally gone down to the fourth quarter, and it is probably
going to happen even more throughout the season,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez
said. “It’s not easy on some of us older coaches, but where we are right now,
our players understand and embrace that playing for 60 minutes is important to
Washington State also knows a little bit about close games, having played
back-to-back bouts against Utah and California, each of which was decided by
a single point. However, when the Cougars last took the field they were
stamped out by Stanford, 34-17. Despite the incredible passing numbers of the
Washington State offense, the team is still just 2-5 overall and 1-3 against
the rest of the Pac-12.
“We (have) just got to play a whole game,” Washington State coach Mike Leach
said after the loss to Stanford. “You got to get a whole game out of it and
it’s going to be physical and nasty and Stanford’s got the luxury of playing a
lot of people, but we have to stand in there with what we got and do better
and be more complete.”
Arizona holds a 25-14 advantage in the all-time series with Washington State,
including a record of 10-4 in Pullman. However, last season the Cougars
escaped with a 24-17 victory, ending a five-game losing streak to the
Slowing down Arizona’s offense has been nearly impossible this season. The
Wildcats, who have been an offensive power every season since Rodriguez took
over, have gone to another level in 2014, as they rank fourth in the country
in total offense (557 ypg).
Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon is at the center of the offensive
storm, playing far beyond his years. He has completed 62.6 percent of his
passes for 2,136 yards and 15 touchdowns, while being intercepted just four
times in 278 attempts. He is second in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game
(356). He completed an incredible 43-of-72 tosses for 395 yards, but only one
touchdown, in the loss to USC.
Solomon can’t do it alone, obviously, and the depth at receiver has been a big
help. Cayleb Jones (39 receptions, 592 yards, six TDs) is easily the most
impressive threat on the roster, leading in just about every receiving
category. Austin Hill (25 receptions, 345 yards, three TDs) is a strong
playmaker as well, with Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant also important pieces
to the puzzle.
Solomon may be called upon to keep throwing frequently this week, as leading
rusher Nick Wilson (574 yards, six TDs) is listed as questionable with an
ankle injury. If Wilson can’t go, Terris Jones-Grigsby (299 yards, three TDs)
will step into the starting role.
For all its offensive firepower, Arizona could still use some work on defense,
as it is surrendering 26.8 points and 432 yards per game. Normally that is
more than enough to keep the Wildcats on top, but any slip from the offense
would be disastrous, which was evident against USC.
Washington State is going to throw the ball, a lot. That really isn’t news.
The Cougars are the No. 1 passing offense in the country, and it’s not even
close. They have amassed 3,430 yards through the air in seven games, making
them the only team with more than 3,000 yards.
Connor Halliday has thrown for 3,344 of those yards as the nation’s leading
passer. He has more completions (292) than any Pac-12 quarterback has pass
attempts. Additionally, he has thrown for 28 touchdowns, completed 66.7
percent of his throws and has kept himself to eight interceptions, which is
impressive considering he has thrown 438 passes.
A number of receivers benefit from the pass-happy offensive scheme. Vince
Mayle (57 receptions, 781 yards, seven TDs), River Cracraft (67 receptions,
676 yards, seven TDs), Isiah Myers (53 receptions, 627 yards, seven TDs) and
Dominique Williams (24 receptions, 496 yards, six TDs) will all need to be
monitored by Arizona’s secondary.
What has held Washington State back has been its defensive effort. The Cougars
are allowing 35 points and 443 yards of total offense per game, ranking 10th
in the Pac-12 in each category.