Two-steppin' in Tucson

If Saturday night's showdown in Tucson between Washington State and Arizona doesn't put a skip in your step, nothing will.

GAME AT
A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
7pm PT in Tucson

THE LINE:
Cougars by 2 1/2

CF.C PREDICTION:
WSU 38, Arizona 31

THE SERIES:
 Arizona leads 20-9, claiming seven of the last eight. The lone Cougar win in that span was an overtime victory in the 1997 run to the Rose Bowl.

LAST YEAR:
 In Tucson, the Cougars dropped the first of what would be three OT losses on the season. Arizona led 20-19 at the end of the third quarter and then hung on through three OTs to prevail 53-47. Each team gained exactly 490 yards, with Arizona rushing for 254 yards and WSU passing for 378. Jason Gesser passed for 348 yards and a school-record six TDs
, three of them to Nakoa McElrath. Bobby Wade had six catches for 112 yards and one TD for 'Zona. The Cats aided its cause by forcing five WSU turnovers, including a goal line interception to end the game.

KEYS TO THE GAME:
The Cougar D need to pressure Wildcat QB Jason Johnson. He's got a stable of good receivers and, if given time, looks the field over nicely before threading the needle. And he's not afraid to throw on first down.

On offense, the Cougar receivers will get their stiffest test of the season against a solid Arizona secondary that has broken up 14 of opponents' 107 passes, plus intercepted another to wreck 14 percent of the other guys' work. Cornerbacks Jermaine Chatman and Michael Jolivette lead the way. Cat coach Mackovic has made no secret that he's devising a game plan to take away the Cougars' long-play aerials.

NOTABLE NOTES:
WSU is No. 10 nationally in rushing defense (66 ypg) while Arizona is No. 24 (92 ypg).

Arizona has a five-game Pac-10 losing streak, including three consecutive on their home field.

In the latest Associated Press poll, WSU is ranked No. 36 and Arizona No. 39.
 

This game is what college football is all about.

Heck, if you try hard enough, you can actually hear Keith Jackson bellowing in your ear that we're on the verge of a head-crackin' donnybrook.

Whoa, Nellie! Let us count the ways:

  • Both clubs are off to perfect 3-0 starts after getting blistered by most of the pre-season magazines.
     
  • Three of the last four meetings between the teams have been decided on the game's final play, with last year's 53-47 Wildcat victory consuming three over time periods. Sixty-one of the points in that game were scored in the fourth quarter and the overtimes.
     
  • Each team features an assistant coach who knows the other side intimately. For Arizona, it's former Cougar linebacker Scott Pelluer who spent the last two seasons in the Crimson & Gray broadcast booth. For WSU, it's Robin Pflugrad, a long-time Arizona State assistant who still lies awake at night wondering how he let the Wildcats nab Bobby Wade.
     
  • The offenses for both teams are putting up huge numbers 32.3 points and 387 yards per game for Arizona and the Cougars a league-leading 42.7 points and 546.3 yards per contest. Each team scored 36 points against Idaho, the only common opponent so far this season.

"This has been a very interesting series," first-year Arizona head coach John Mackovic told the Arizona Republic. "A defensive struggle, by chance? I don't think so. I think Washington State will try to score 35 points or more."

Mackovic knows WSU's one-back offense all too well. Back in 1988, when Dennis Erickson was in Pullman and Mackovic was at Illinois, the Cougars traveled to Champaign and put a 44-7 hurt on the Illini.

Arizona, known for defense, is no slouch on O either, though they've had some trouble with fumbles in the first three games.

They're led by strapping junior QB Jason Johnson, a Puyallup product who has completed 64 percent of his tosses for 747 yards, 6 TDs and one INT. He's surrounded by plenty of skill, with Wade one of the league's finest thespians and Malosi Leonard at receiver, and trash-talking Clarence Farmer and Tremaine Cox in the backfield.

On defense, the Cats are, as Mackovic puts its, "just fine." But they are a bit banged up. Defensive end Alex Luna will be sidelined Saturday due to a knee sprain he tweaked last week against UNLV, while fellow DE Fata Avegalio is questionable following a dislocated elbow suffered in the opener against San Diego State. Another DE, Eli Wnek, is out with a stress fracture in his leg.

NOTABLE NOTES

Cougar slotback Nakoa McElrath leads the nation with 514 receiving yards on 27 catches and is on pace to break Offensive Coordinator Mike Levenseller's single-season school record of 67 receptions. At his current average, McElrath would total 1,881 yards, shooting pass the school single-season record of 1,151yards set by legendary Timm Stallworth.


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