Cougs-Cats should add up to a late night

THIS WILL BE AN INSOMNIAC'S DREAM. With the kickoff between the top two passing offenses in the Pac-10 -- not to mention their two weak defenses -- not happening till 7 p.m., Saturday's regionally televised contest between Washington State and Arizona may run right past the monologue on Saturday Night Live. Collectively, the Cougars and 'Cats put the ball in the air an average of 66 times a game.

Aside from the aerial circus that figures to unfold in Tucson, there is the more far-reaching aspect of the game: The winner takes a major step toward an upper-division finish and the loser is in serious trouble. If there's such a thing as a must-win game in the month of September, the Cougars and Wildcats are staring it in the face.

For the Cats, the imperative is driven by head coach Mike Stoops' 12-22 record entering the season and a 1-3 start to the campaign that includes an embarrassing setback to New Mexico two weeks ago.

For WSU, the pressure started to build last November against these very same Wildcats when the No. 25-ranked Cougs, 6-3 and looking to close with a bang, were upset at home and proceeded to lose their next two to torpedo what had appeared to be a certain bowl invitation. This season they've been mostly man-handled in the two games everyone knew they'd lose -- to No. 1 USC and No. 7 Wisconsin -- and looked mostly solid in the two games everyone knew they would win -- against San Diego State and Idaho.

Cougars (2-2) vs Wildcats (1-3)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
7 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Arizona Stadium (56,000)

EARLY LINE:
Arizona by 2 1/2

TV:
Live on Fox Northwest and Fox Arizona

LAST YEAR:
Wildcats 27, Cougs 17.


Now comes the part of the season where the outcome each week isn't foretold.

All eyes in this one figure to be centered on the two quarterbacks. Arizona's Willie Tuitama leads the conference in passing, at 318 yards per game, and WSU's Alex Brink is second, averaging 278 air hashes per outing.

The game also will feature the league's two most prolific receivers in Arizona's Mike Thomas (31) and WSU's Michael Bumpus (25). Against USC on Saturday, Bumpus moved into second place on the WSU career list and now has 150 career receptions and trails only Hugh Campbell (176) all-time.

Despite all the air power, Arizona ranks last in the Pac-10 in scoring (26 points per game). The Cougars are fifth (31).

On defense, Arizona is mostly in the middle-the-pac from a statistical perspective -- though Cal, which hung 45 on them over the weekend -- is the only top 25 team they've played.

The Cougars are bringing up much of the Pac-10's defensive rear. They rank ninth in total defense, red zone defense, and passing defense, and tenth in third-down conversions allowed (57.9 percent).


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