Everything from a Pac-12 North title shot to ESPN Game Day is at stake this week. But Arizona is not about to give up their homecoming game easily.
The Wildcats are bruised but not out of the race in the South, with Rodriguez relishing the thought of trying to out-scheme Mike Leach in this desert duel.
Cougars (4-2) vs Wildcats (5-2)
AT A GLANCE
1:00 p.m. PT
Arizona Stadium (57,400)
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Arizona by 7
Arizona won 59-37 last year in Pullman.
Arizona leads 26-14.
Cougs 43, Wildcats 40
THE WILDCATS ON OFFENSE:
Players to Know
QBs Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall: Solomon suffered a concussion against UCLA and missed the Stanford game as well. The Wildcats lost both games, but did their best to rally around running specialist Jerrard Randall. Randall averages over 11 yards per rush attempt and has 534 total rushing yards, but lacks a good throwing arm. Solomon has had a decent year passing the ball, throwing 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions, but Rodriguez surprised aomw by benching him part way through the Colorado game when the offense was ineffective. They seem to be protecting Solomon, while becoming more and more infatuated with Randall.
RB Nick Wilson: The Wildcats leading rusher missed the Colorado game with a foot injury but could be ready for this week’s game. Jared Baker filled in very effectively against the Buffs, gaining over 200 rushing yards.
WR Caleb Jones: The Wildcats haven't passed the ball as much this year, but they have a solid receiver corps. Jones leads the group with 27 catches for 364 yards.
The Cougars are facing a similar spread-option offense to what they saw against Oregon and Oregon State, but this time with a quarterback who can throw; well one of them anyway. The Wildcats average 297 rushing yards per game, sixth best nationally, and Solomon can be a very dangerous passer. Arizona has been hit hard with injuries this year, but Rodriguez has made the best of it. In fact, he seems to enjoy the excuse to tinker, rotating different players and schemes when the offense stalls.
As with the last two games, stopping the run gets top priority, no matter who is under center. Wilson and Baker are dangerous runners in of themselves but when Randall is on the field, the Cougs really need to double down. Solomon brings more balance, but concussion concerns have really limited the amount of runs he takes. The Cougs would be well advised to try and force Randall to beat them through the air and Solomon to beat them on the ground. Colorado got burned several times, but overall the strategy kept the game within reach. Randall is not an effective passer, and Solomon does not want to take hits.
Six Starters: Injuries have taken their toll. Only six offensive players have started every game this year. Much of the group is finally getting healthy though, so the regular offense may be back on display Saturday against the Cougs.
THE WILDCATS ON DEFENSE:
Players to Know
S Will Parks: In the absence of Scooby Wright, this defense generally lacks much star power, but the senior Parks leads the group with 45 tackles and 6 pass break ups.
While the Arizona offense has been banged up, the Wildcats’ defense is positively decimated. The loss of All-American linebacker Scooby Wright has affected them all season. Injuries in the secondary has left them inexperienced there as well. Arizona runs a 3-3-5, which on paper should be very effective against passing teams, but it doesn't work if there is no pass rush and poor tackling. Colorado passed for 339 yards last week, nearly 100 yards above their per game average.
This is a new opponent for Luke Falk, but Connor Halliday was fairly effective last year; albeit in a losing effort. With the addition of an improved running game, WSU should be in the driver’s seat. Falk just needs to avoid careless passes. This game is likely to be a shootout. In that regard, the best thing the Cougar offense can do is keep the punt team off the field.
Pass Efficiency Defense: 80th. Arizona has a statistically below average pass defense, and keep in mind they have not faced elite level passing teams. Pac-12 opponents have actually averaged 201 yards rushing against the Wildcats.
THE WILDCATS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Arizona hasn't done anything special on special teams, but had both a kick and a punt return for touchdowns against the Cougs last year. Kicker Casey Skowron has converted 60 percent of his field goals beyond 40 yards, but none longer than 48.
-WSU beat Arizona in 2013, but last year they dug itself into a 24-point first-quarter hole from which they could not recover. They cannot afford to fall behind in this track race. Both defenses are outmatched, so this could be a wild one.
-The Cougars’ bowl chances no longer hinge on a win here, but it would sure help bolster them. ESPN Gameday is probably headed to Notre Dame-Temple but WSU vs Stanford, if the Cougs win at Arizona, could still happen. A win in the desert could finally bring Ol' Crimson to the promised land.