Arizona Wildcats vs. Washington State Cougars Complete Game Preview
Arizona (6-3, 3-3 Pac-12) continues its three-game November homestand with a visit Saturday from Washington State (4-5, 2-4) in the teams' first meeting since 2010.
The host Wildcats are coming off a 31-26 loss to UCLA, a game that ended their three-game win streak but also knocked them out of serious contention for the Pac-12 South Division title. Washington State hasn't played since Oct. 31, when it lost 55-31 at home to Arizona State, and the Cougars are riding a three-game skid.
Arizona won the last meeting in the series, claiming a 24-7 victory in Pullman, Wash. in Oct. 2010. The Wildcats have beat the Cougars five straight times, including a 48-7 win the last time they met in Tucson in 2009.
When: Saturday, Nov. 16, 2 p.m. ET
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz.
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: Arizona IMG Radio Network; Washington State IMG Sports Network
Line: Arizona is between a 12- and 13-point favorite, depending on the sports book, according to VegasInsider.com.
Arizona's Keys to Victory
Get back on track
Arizona controlled its own destiny heading into last week's game, knowing that if it won out, it could get a shot at a coveted Rose Bowl berth, something that's never happened in the history of the program.
Instead, the Wildcats have fallen back into the pack and must right their course in order to avoid ending up in the New Mexico Bowl like last season.
That means winning games they should win, like beating Washington State. Arizona hasn't had any bad losses this season, and now wouldn't be a time to change that.
Plan for everything
It will have been 16 days since Washington State last played by the time this game kicks off, giving the Cougars plenty of time to work on things and possibly install new schemes. It's a character trait of WSU coach Mike Leach, who has been known to pull out all the stops.
“Washington State will have had over two weeks to prepare for us," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez told reporters at his weekly press conference. "We’re preparing for everything they could do against us with 16 days of rest.”
Considering that Arizona fell victim to UCLA's use of a linebacker at running back last week, expect the Wildcats to be on high alert for "trickeration."
Washington State's Keys to Victory
Avoid the record books
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey needs 249 yards to become the school's career rushing leader. It's going to happen this season, but Washington State should do whatever it takes to avoid it happening on Saturday.
If Carey were to run for 250 yards or more on the Cougars, it's very unlikely it will happen in a WSU victory. Rather, it would be more a case of Carey going off like he did around this time last season, when he blew through Colorado's defense for a Pac-12 record 366 yards rushing.
The Cougars have the kind of passing game that can give opponents fits, and it has...when it's not causing turnovers.
WSU has thrown 20 interceptions and lost seven fumbles, the kind of mistakes it cannot afford to make when its defense isn't capable of slowing down anyone. The Cougars need to win shootouts, which become blowouts—like their last game, a 34-point home loss to Arizona State—when mistakes get in the way.
The Cougars have 15 turnovers in their last three games, all losses. The score in those games were a combined, 169-83.
Arizona Players to Watch
Flowers is among Arizona's leaders in tackles for loss, but that's not what he'll be doing much of against Washington State and its almost non-existent run game. Against the Cougars, the senior linebacker will be one of many defensive players roaming around the field and covering one of WSU's bevy of wide receivers.
No problem. He's already returned an interception for a touchdown this season, and like the rest of Arizona's linebackers and defensive backs in its 3-3-5 system, he's ready to handle assignments in pass coverage.
The junior tailback is very close to becoming Arizona's career rushing leader, which would give him 17 school records. He has gained 100 or more yards in 12 straight games, making that century mark an almost foregone conclusion against the Cougars.
But sometimes Arizona seems to forget he's an option, thinking it needs to be completely balanced, or sometimes a pass-first team, despite having a player who has averaged 5.9 yards per carry over his career and scored 40 touchdowns.
WSU is bad at defending both the pass and the run, so any of the Wildcats could go off for a big day. That should include Carey, especially with the chance to break the school rushing record.
Washington State Players to Watch
Halliday is the kind of quarterback that head coach Mike Leach seems to always have: one who is willing to throw it anywhere, no matter the situation. Halliday set the FBS record for pass attempts in a game earlier this season, putting it up 89 times against Oregon.
But while the junior is averaging 344.4 yards per game and has 20 touchdowns, he has also tossed 18 interceptions. He's a feast-or-famine player, and when he struggles with mistakes, the Cougars struggle as a team.
The Cougars are allowing an average of 32.7 points and 453.1 yards per game—numbers that are far from spectacular. But somehow those stats have occurred despite the all-around stellar play of Bucannon, who is, by far, the best Washington State defensive player in years.
The 6'1" senior safety is WSU's leader in tackles with 85, including 57 solo tackles. No other Cougar has more than 54 total tackles. Bucannon also leads Washington State in interceptions with five, has forced three fumbles and recovered two. He is a very bright star for an otherwise porous defense.
What They're Saying
Mike Leach has yet to achieve the success at Washington State that he had throughout his tenure at Texas Tech, but that doesn't mean the eccentric coach hasn't continued to be a media darling.
His interests, tastes and anecdotes are regularly passed around on Twitter, such as a recent revelation from former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell on Attfanzonetour.com that Leach cussed out Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe during a game on his cell phone to complain about the officials.
Though the Cougars likely won't make a bowl game again this year, the progress seen through two seasons has made WSU officials want to hold onto Leach, according to a KXLY AM 920 interview with WSU athletic director Bill Moos (via Allcougdup.com):
Mike Leach’s contract automatically rolls to another year at the end of December unless one of two or both of the parties want to do otherwise. It’s a 5-year rollover. Mike Leach wants to be a Cougar and we want him to be a Cougar.
On the Arizona front, the Wildcats got some good news this week when receiver Austin Hill received clearance to start practicing. The junior has missed the entire season so far after tearing an ACL during spring ball, but there's an outside shot he'd be available to play in a bowl game.
Hill is most likely going to sit out the entire year (hoping to be granted a medical redshirt) and be part of an amazingly talented receiving corps in 2014. But that doesn't mean his return to the field hasn't been inspiring, according to the Arizona Daily Star's Daniel Berk.
“If he can come back at the end of this year or next year, you’re talking about a guy that’s one of the best in the league as far as catching the ball and understanding the coverages and where to go and ball skills,” (Arizona coach Rich) Rodriguez said. “Austin has worked really, really hard and he looks great."
Because of school-scheduling preferences, Arizona had UCLA serve as its Homecoming opponent last week, belying the normal tradition of having a likely victory be on the slate for that game.
Washington State would have been that opponent, being the lowest-rated Pac-12 team on the Wildcats' home schedule. But even without Homecoming festivities, Arizona should easily roll in a game that will match one of the country's best running backs against a defense that can't stop anyone.
WSU will put up points, but look for Arizona to roll.
Final score: Arizona 47, Washington State 23