The Dirty Dozen of WSU vs. Arizona

WASHINGTON STATE AND Arizona, as well as most media types, are billing Saturday night's showdown in Tucson as a "must win," which begs the question: Why?

NUMBERS & OPINION

First of all, this isn't exactly a "clash of the titans," between a 2-2 Cougar team and the 1-3 Wildcats. Particularly when both teams were hammered in their Pac-10 openers.

Then there's the little matter of two-thirds of the season being left. Not to mention eight-ninths of the Pac-10 season.

Is it crucial to WSU's bowl hopes to win? Not necessarily. The Cougars started 3-2 the past three seasons, and not one of those teams finished with a winning record or went to a bowl game.

Is it crucial to Arizona's bowl hopes to win? Not necessarily. Only once have the Wildcats started the season 1-3 and made it to a bowl game, and there's no reason to think this year is going to be any different.

All that being said, it would certainly behoove the Cougars to win Saturday, since their next four opponents after Arizona sport a combined record of 15-1. Lose to those four teams and Arizona, and you're 2-7 and eliminated from bowl consideration with three games left. But simply losing to Arizona would not be the be-all, end-all to WSU's season.

So, the ball is on the tee; the Volkswagen-on-a-stick driver is out of the bag; the practice swings are complete. It's time to get down and dirty with the weekly Dirty Dozen.

1. View From Pullman:
Clear. Don't make too much of the dreaded "hangover" affect from last week's beat-down at USC. No self-respecting athlete or coach goes into a game planning to lose, but let's get serious -- no one was shocked by how things turned out. If the Cougars played the game of their lives and the Trojans played semi-sorta respectably, the Trojans would win 99 of 100 meetings -- at least. The difference in speed, size, experience and overall skill was that obvious.

2. View from Tucson:
Cloudy. UA players blame a lack of communication on the field for many of their defensive woes. But with 10 returning starters and droves of seniors on the two-deep, they should be able to cover for one another in their sleep. The newly installed pass-first, pass-second, pass-til-you-drop offense is an improvement over the snore-first, snore-second, snore-til-you-drop offense that the Wildcats had been running. However, the Wildcats lack the personnel to throw out of five-receiver sets with consistently superior results. Also, it's tough to succeed in the red zone when you can't/won't run the ball and are starting an undersized true freshman at tailback.

3. Scouting Report:
The Wildcats throw tons of short passes in all directions, and WSU's inexperienced defensive backs and linebackers have struggled with short passes. Arizona has some talented individuals on defense, but if they don't play together, Alex Brink and his merry band of receivers will kick the Cats into the desert. Arizona ranks last in the Pac-10 in scoring; WSU ranks last in points allowed. Tell the scoreboard operator to get primed for a good cardio workout.

4. Betcha Didn't Know:
Arizona's media guide contains 32 paragraphs of "career highlights" for coach Mike Stoops, and 23 have absolutely nothing to do with the Wildcats. Four years after leaving older brother Bob and the Oklahoma Sooners to become a head coach for the first time, Stoops is 13-25 with no winning seasons or bowl appearances. He's holding down the No. 3 spot on CoachesHotSeat.com (WSU's Bill Doba is 26th).

5. The Rankings:
FOXSports.com ranks WSU 49th, down from 37th a week ago. Arizona is 82nd among the 119 teams in NCAA Division I-A.

6. Cougar Trivia Department:
Brink and fellow seniors Bobby Byrd and Chris Baltzer are such good friends and spend so much time together, teammates call them "The Three Amigos."

7. Wildcat Trivia Department:
Coming out of high school, Arizona senior Antoine Cason, one of the best cornerbacks in Wildcat history, looked like he was going to become a Cougar, thanks to the good work of George Yarno but another WSU assistant who is no longer on staff was convinced there were faster prospects for the secondary. WSU's starting cornerbacks Saturday (freshman Chima Nwachukwu and sophomore Devin Giles), promising as they are, came into the season with zero college game experience. In defense of the old assistant coach who passed on Cason, and in speaking to the uncertainty of recruiting, most D-I staffs agreed with his assessment -– Cason's only other offer was from Oregon State.

8. Alumni Hall:
Former Wildcat athletes include pro golfers Annika Sorenstam, Jim Furyk and Natalie Gulbis, San Diego Padres relief ace Trevor Hoffman, Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton, U.S. Olympic team softball pitcher Jennie Finch, New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi and Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas. Other alums of note: The late U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, actors Craig T. Nelson (a Spokane native) and Greg Kinnear, Anheuser-Busch CEO August A. Busch and Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno.

9. Cougar Talk:
Bill Doba, head coach and defensive coordinator, talking about the pressure on WSU's offense to score enough to make up for a weak defense: "I worry about it ... I'm sure there is some kind of pressure on the offense now where they feel they can't afford to make a mistake."

10. Wildcat Talk:
Mike Stoops, head coach, on Arizona's struggles under his watch: "I found out I'm not a miracle worker. Everyone thinks they are, but football is an ultimate team game."

11. Opinion Of The Week:
Arizona's playbook has been stripped down in Sonny Dykes' first year as offensive coordinator to simplify the complex passing game for the players. That benefits the Cougars, since Doba prefers keeping his inexperienced defenders in base looks with relatively few adjustments on the fly so players can focus on what they know best.

12. And Your Final Score Is:
Washington State 44, Arizona 41 (overtime).


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