Traveling to Pullman is never an easy trip. Two weeks after suffering its first loss of the season, Arizona (5-1, 2-1) will head on the road in hopes of getting back into the win column after the bye week.
For Washington State (2-5, 1-3), the first half of the season was far less kinder. It enters the game with a two game losing streak, while losing three of the last four. The Cougars will be desperate for a win, but have not defeated a ranked team at home since 2006 when they beat 16th ranked Oregon.
The battle on Saturday will pit two offensive geniuses in the college football game, Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez. The former has created a passing game untouched by any other, while the later has created a balanced attack that heavily focuses on the read option as a starting point for nearly every play.
Leach's passing attack is led by senior quarterback Connor Halliday, who has thrown for 10,775 yards in his career with the Cougars, a mark that sits seventh in Pac-12 history. Halliday has 28 passing touchdowns this season, with 21 of them going to just three receivers, Isiah Myers, River Cracraft, and Vince Mayle.
"Halliday is obviously a very talented guy and can make all the throws, but their wide receiver crew is really, really good," Rodriguez said. "They know what they are doing. It seems like they throw eight to ten different route packages and that’s all they run, but within those route packages they have adjustments based on coverage.
"If you look at his physical abilities, his size and his arm strength, and beyond that it is his ability to read a coverage and extend a play and be able to scan the whole field. His ability to see the field and get rid of the ball so quickly I think will translate to the NFL level. That is what the NFL has become, a shotgun, get rid of the ball quick, spread you from sideline to sideline kind of league."
The entire Washington State offense revolves around Halliday throwing the football, as witnessed in his 70 passing attempts in a 60-59 loss against California earlier this season. It is an issue that Rodriguez has addressed with his team in the bye week.
"You have to be concerned with it," Rodriguez said. "I don’t think you can play the same 11 guys on defense and chase the passer and chase those wideouts around for 100 snaps a game.
"That has been a concern for us because we are not as deep defensively as we need to be, but we are trying to get more guys ready to play this week especially."
While there may be some pressure on Arizona's defense to stop the Cougars' passing attack, the Wildcats' offense will also have some pressure to put points on the board. Last season, Arizona struggled to get the offensive flow going, posting only 17 points and rushing for just 195 yards as a team, one of the lowest marks of the year.
The lack of offense can be partially credited to Washington State's defensive play. The front seven, led by Xavier Cooper, was phenomenal in that game and will play a major factor in how the Wildcats do offensively on the road.
"Their front seven, we didn't handle them last year," Rodriguez said. "They got a lot of pressure on us and stuffed our run game. Nearly all of them are back. We got whipped a little bit up front by the same guys they have coming back."
The Cougars' defense has struggled at times this season, but could have a few new looks for the Wildcats, especially coming off of a bye week.
"Defensively, they do a lot of movement, a lot of different blitzes, and a lot of different looks that we haven’t seen so far this year," Rodriguez said.
With both teams coming off a bye week, they should both be well rested and ready to play when the ball is kicked off on Saturday in what should be an exciting game.
Players to watch:
#4, CB Daquawn Brown: As leading tackler for the Cougars, expect to see Brown wherever the ball is. He has a nose for the play and is usually in position to make a few plays just about every drive.
#21, WR River Cracraft: The sophomore might be Washington State's best receiver and while there are plenty of other targets, Cracraft is a player that has been on a hot streak lately and could come up big for the Cougars.
#12, QB Connor Halliday: This may seem like the easy way out, but Halliday is rapidly approaching the top of Washington State's career passing leaderboard and even a below average performance would put him at the top of it.
Keys to the game: