The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Arizona

HAS THIS BEEN the strangest stretch of Cougar football in sometime or what? One game in 28 days? Outside of a natural disaster suddenly canceling a game, it's hard to imagine any college football program has had a period as quiet as this during a recent regular season.

It magnifies news such as Sunday's, when Bellevue defensive tackle Marcus Griffin announced he was decommitting from Washington State. Big news for recruiting wonks, sure, but bigger news on a November when there's little Cougar football results to chew on.

It's as if the Cougars may need a reintroduction to fans come Saturday when WSU (4-5, 2-4) plays Arizona (6-3, 3-3) in Tucson.

Then again, most of us probably want to forget the past three games, where Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State outscored the Cougars 169-83.

It will be very disappointing if Washington State doesn't show that it put this significant downtime to good use and puts an improved product on the field against Arizona. This is particularly true on defense, where the Cougars have been lost for more than a month, even during the romp at California.

There's no reason for anything less than a sharp, inspired effort against the Wildcats. There's still much to play for this season, even if some of the early gains were squandered of late. Time to show the direction of the current coaching staff is having an impact.

Cougs vs. Wildcats


The kickoff: 11 a.m. Saturday, Arizona Stadium.

TV: Pac-12 Network

The line: Wildcats by 12 1/2

The series: Wildcats lead 25-13


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About Arizona: Here's another measuring stick for Washington State in Arizona, a program, like the Cougars, that is under the direction of a second-year coach. Arizona's Rich Rodriguez took over a program that was, from this chair, in a little better shape than WSU's, but not by much; the Wildcats program he inherited had lost 13 of its past 17 games.

Yet Arizona seems to be doing well, having gone and won a bowl game in Year 1 of Rodriguez, and already qualified for a bowl this season. Only one of the Wildcats' three losses in 2013 was a blowout, a 31-13 defeat at Washington.

On the other hand, it's not as if Arizona has a decided edge over Washington State. The Wildcats barely beat California, a team the Cougars hammered, and had trouble putting away Colorado, easily the Pac-12 doormat.

Arizona's offense is clicking, particularly on the ground, where the Wildcats average 271 yards a game, 11th in the nation. Junior running back Ka'Deem Carey has yet to offer up a clunker this season, with a 100-yard performance every game. Carey's high was 232 yards on 39 carries against Utah. His best performance came a year ago, a 366-yard outing against Colorado.

The Arizona passing game is only so-so. Senior D.J. Denker, a dual-threat quarterback, has passed for 1,688 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Denker is a dink-and-dunker, as he completes a high percentage (67.6), but not for a lot of yards. The team's top receiving threat is freshman Nate Phillips, who is coming off a season-best 97-yard performance against UCLA.

Defensively, Arizona ranks among the middle of the Pac-12 in all phases, giving up an average of 384 yards a game. The bad news is that Arizona is a little better at slowing down a passing game, as they rank third in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. The Wildcats are not an opportunistic defense, as they average less than two takeaways per game. But Arizona has a plus-5 turnover margin because the offense makes few mistakes.

Arizona's top two tacklers are junior safety Jared Tevis and freshman linebacker Scooby Wright, both among the Pac-12's top 10 in that category. Pressuring the quarterback isn't an Arizona strength, as the Wildcats don't have anyone among the league's top 20 in sacks.

The series: This is the first meeting between Arizona and Washington State with Mike Leach and Rodriguez as coaches. The last time the schools played each other was 2010, when the Wildcats scored a 24-7 win in Pullman. Arizona has a five-game winning streak over the Cougars. WSU's last win came in 2004, a 20-19 decision in Tucson.

Arizona leads the overall series 25-13.

Familiar faces: Arizona has only two players from Washington in sophomore linebacker Sir Thomas Jackson (Seattle) and junior cornerback Justin Samuels (Camas). The Wildcats have a former Cougar on the coaching staff in offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, who played at WSU from 1984-88.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

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