Arizona 101: Cougs in for aerial test

THE CLOCK MAY BE TICKING on Mike Stoops after a 1-3 start to the fourth season of his mostly lackluster Tucson tenure. He's looking to Saturday's televised match up with Washington State to kick start a club that lost earlier this season to New Mexico. The Cats' staid offense has been revamped with a modern edition of the run-and-shoot that should pose a big challenge for WSU's porous secondary.

After getting plastered last week by Cal in their Pac-10 opener, the Wildcats are circling the wagons in an effort to turn the season around before it is too late. It is noteworthy that the Arizona played WSU in a very similar situation last season and garnered an upset that fueled them to a 3-1 finish and 6-6 overall record. The Cougars are equally motivated as that same contested sparked the three game losing streak that left them on the outside looking in last bowl season.

Cougars (2-2) vs. Wildcats (1-3)
7 pm Pacific Time

Arizona Stadium (57,400)

FSN Regional

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Arizona by 2.5

2006, WSU lost 27-17 in Pullman.

Arizona leads all time 21-13 but WSU has won 4 of the past 5 meetings.

Cougars 35, Wildcats  27


Players to Know
Willie Tuitama, QB: The story hasn't changed much. As Willie Tuitama goes, so go the Wildcats. Tuitama has thrown for 1254 yards and 10 touchdowns in the first four games. He set school records for attempts (61) and completions (42), and passed for over 300 yards for the third straight game in a futile attempt to mount a comeback on Cal last week. Virtually all of Arizona's offense comes through him.

Nicolas Grigsby, RB: Grigsby won the starting job over senior Chris Jennings after Arizona got off to a horrid start running the football this season. The 178 pound freshman ran for 42 yards in his first career start last week

Mike Thomas and Terrell Turner, WRs: With the lone returning offensive strength being Tuitama, coach Mike Stoops has opened up the passing game for him. Wide receivers Mike Thomas and Terrell Turner have thrived in the new offense, catching 54 balls for 586 yards and 6 touchdowns so far.

The Wildcat passing game isn't to blame for their 1-3 record. They are averaging more points (26.5) and passing yards (318) per game than at any point last season. Tuitama is on pace to smash Arizona's single-season records for yardage and touchdowns. The problem has been the running game. A young offensive line has been unable to open up any holes. The Wildcats are managing just 3.1 yards per rush and 71 rushing yards per game. Adding to the problem has been that the weak Arizona defense which has forced the Wildcats to take to the air just to play catch up.

The temptation is to focus on Tuitama and shut down the passing game, but Arizona's weak rushing attack is its Achilles heal. WSU's front seven needs to shut down Grigsby and generate as much pressure as possible to keep Arizona from sustaining any offensive consistency. Passing yards sting a lot less if the Wildcats can't cash it in the red zone.


Players to Know
Antoine Cason, CB:  Considered the top corner in the conference and was a Thorpe award finalist last year. Cason has one of only two interceptions generated by the Wildcats this season.

Spencer Larson, WLB: Arizona's top tackler and one of the senior leaders of the defense. Second team all Pac-10 in 2006.

Despite having ten starters back, the Arizona defense has not improved much over last year's model. The Wildcat's 4-3 has struggled out of the gate this season, surrendering 1263 yards are nearly 5.9 yards per play in their three losses. For being sold as a defensive mastermind, Mike Stoops simply hasn't been able to adapt to Pac-10 offenses. Entering his 4th season, Stoops' Wildcats rank dead last in points surrendered and 9th in yards allowed through the first four games. Mike Stoops is attempting to simplify his defensive system this week as he believes miscommunication led to too many breakdowns in coverage.

This group is due for a big game. There is a ton of experience all around and having a corner like Cason gives them some flexibility in their pass defense. However, they still haven't shown any big play ability. In four games they have only generated eight sacks and four turnovers. With the season slipping away, expect a more aggressive approach this week. Screen passes and draw plays could catch them off guard. If the Cougs can protect Brink, the deep ball should also be available. Strong offenses have passed the ball effectively, but Cal didn't have to, rushing for 186 yards against UA last week. A big day by Dwight Tardy could break their backs.

Arizona has big legs for its punt and kickoff units, but place kicker Jason Bondzio has limited range with a career long field goal of 42 yards. The Wildcat kick return and kick coverage units are top notch and could provide a significant edge in this game.

Both teams have stated that this is a must win game that could make or break the season, so expect a high energy and emotional contest. Even though it is still early in the season a bowl likely of the question for the loser of this game

The Wildcats have struggled at the start of games, getting outscored 42-20 in the first quarter this year, but they have outscored their opponents in the second half. It is important for the Cougs to get control of the game early.

Expect a ton of passing yards in this game, but the team with the superior ground game will likely claim the victory. Arizona has been out-rushed by a margin of over 4-to-1 in its three losses

WSU has a 9-0 record in games televised exclusively on FSN Northwest.

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