The Catfight

Some thing's are certain when the Wildcats of Arizona and Cougars of Washington State do battle: blood pressures go up, hair falls out, and nails are bitten raw.

Ordinary? No way.

Ordinary does not apply to Washington States' annual catfight with the University of Arizona, a battle that has "quietly" become of the Pac-10's best rivalries. Three of the last four meetings between the feline foes have not been decided until the game's final play.

In fact, this annual match-up leaves fans of both schools with conflicting emotions: on one hand, they question why they subject themselves to such intense stress; on the other, it reminds them why it is they love the game of football so much.

If you're looking for ball-control, grind it out on the ground game take a hike; this game's all about airing it out and airing it out often. As last year's 53-47, triple overtime loss to the Cats would indicate, this game should be another wild, wild shootout in the wild, Wild West.

Both teams enter the game with unblemished records at 3-0, although neither has exactly faced juggernauts thus far.

"This is definitely our toughest game," WSU Coach Mike Price said, "They're the best football team we've played so far. The scheduled has sort of evolved for us. It's been a good seasoning, and we haven't bitten off more than we can chew so far this season."

If last year's game is any indication the Cougs are in for a full-course meal this week. Arizona, under first year coach John Mackovic, feels they're up to the challenge of facing the top offense in the Pac-10.

"I don't think that this will be a defensive struggle," Mackovic told the UA official website. "They (WSU) are going to try to score 35 points or more. Knowing that they are going to play that way, we are going to play that way. I'm not certain either team can control the game and take it into a low-scoring defensive game."

"WSU is a team that will try to take control of the game and try to make you play their game. They have so many receivers, and they are running the ball well. (Jason) Gesser is a veteran who knows the system. He knows where to put the ball, he knows the checks, and he knows what to do. They really have a nice attack."

The Wildcats' attack is vastly improved as well. These Cats are a far cry from the teams under Dick Tomey that were primarily defense oriented squads that produced just enough offense to win.

Lead by Puyallup native Jason Johnson and his 149.8 passer rating, the Cats are putting up big numbers, averaging 387 yards per contest and putting 32 points a game. This year's Wildcats are an offensive heavyweight compared to teams past.

Price says the key to the Cougs' success will ultimately fall in the hands of offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller and his ability to out wit newly hired UA defensive coordinator Larry MacDuff. MacDuff, the original architect of the Cats' double-eagle flex defense in the early ‘90s, was lured back to Tucson from the defending NFC champion New York Giants.

"Mike (Levenseller) has provided good leadership and vision and confidence in this team," Price said. "It's kind of like an old shoe, it feels good and it's comfortable and it just feels right. It's been a very good relationship, very honest and trusting. He's a big reason the WR's are performing the way they are. He has outstanding principles of teaching."

Those principles will hopefully be a key to a Coug victory in Tucson, which has been something of an uncommon commodity under during Price's tenure on the Palouse.

"We've had some great games there. Last year was tough game for us. We had four turnovers and had about seven offside penalties, we couldn't snap the ball, I think the crowd got to us a little bit," Price said. "We turned the ball over twice on scoring drives and missed a field goal at the end of the game and ended up losing in triple overtime. I think this year's going to be better. I'm concentrating on playing mistake free football."

If the Cougs do play mistake football it should be more of the same for Cougfans; another convincing victory, which is starting to be old hat for Price this season."

"I told the team before the last game, ‘We've won when we've been favorites. We've won when we were on the road in enemy territory, but we've never had to come from behind,' so it'd be interesting to see how they'd react, to see if they'd have patience to get back and get it together and they did that, so I don't have anything else to tell them."

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