Sizing up a cat fight

WASHINGTON STATE sits atop the Pac-10 and is ranked No. 9 nationally. Arizona, still looking for its first conference win, is alone in the cellar. Looks like a classic mismatch when the two teams face off Saturday night on national television, right? Not so fast, sports fans.

These 'Cats may be struggling, but they're still more wild than mild. Consider the following:

*Arizona's passing offense is ranked No. 8 in the nation, averaging 316 yards per contest, and quarterback Jason Johnson -- the Pride of Puyallup -- is throwing for about 30 more hashes a game than Jason Gesser.

* The Wildcats' pass defense is ranked 38th in the nation --- 50 spots better than WSU's D, and its total defense is rated 46th, 14 spots better than WSU's.

* In crunch time, the Wildcats pack a mighty bite, having allowed just 19 fourth-quarter points this season.

* One of the most exciting players in the nation plies his trade in Tucson. Receiver Bobby Wade, the guy who should have received an Oscar for his performance in Pullman in 1999, leads the Pac-10 in receptions (58), receiving yards (122.4 per game), all-purpose yards (168 ) and punt returns (15.0). With 30 catches for 427 yards and three TDs over his last three games, he's now tied for sixth on the Pac-10 career reception list with 195 catches.

SO HOW IS IT, with all that's going the 'Cats' way, that this breed of feline is 3-4 and heading, rapidly, in the opposite direction of their 6-1 crimson brethren?

In simplest terms, it's injuries and lack of a ground attack -- and not necessarily in that order.

Indeed, the Cougars' only Pac-10 rival in the injury department this season has been the 'Cats --- and based on word from the infirmary this week, 'Zona figures to hold the top spot all by itself this week.

Foremost on that list is star halfback Clarence Farmer, who went down with a blown knee against North Texas and had surgery shortly after. Adding to the misery, fellow backs Gainus Scott and Mike Bell are dinged up, with Scott out for this week.

Those health woes, coupled with a so-so offensive line, finds Arizona coming into Saturday's contest averaging a mere 71 ground yards per game --- 114th worst among the 117 Division I-A schools. The inability to run has forced QB Johnson to the air early and often. He's racked up some nice numbers as a result, but the predictability of it all has produced an unremitting pass rush on him, leading to 7 interceptions versus 10 TD passes so far, and a mountain of sacks --- 25 total and 16 in the last three games alone.

In last week's 16-6 loss to Stanford, the 'Cats handed the ball off just 14 times --- and two of those were to wide receivers.

In three Pac-10 games, the Wildcats are averageing 1 yard per carry. For the season, it's 2.2 yards.

KICKOFF: 7:10 pm PT, in Tucson

TV: Live coverage nationally on Fox Sports

THE LINE: Cougars by 9 1/2

LAST SEASON: The Cougars held the 'Cats scoreless in three of four quarters, allowed them but 76 yards on the ground, and picked off four interceptions including one by Lamont Thompson for a TD with just 70 ticks off the clock. The Cougars jumped to a 28-0 lead courtesy of every tool in the arsenal -- the interception by Thompson, another by James Price, a first-play bomb from Gesser to Mike Bush that set up the first of four David Minnich TDs, and then an audacious onsides kick recovered by Ira Davis that set up another Minnich tally. Final score: Cougars 48, Wildcats 21.

INJURY REPORT: For Arizona, RB Clarence Farmer (knee), RB Gainus Scott (ankle) SS Jarvie Worcester (arm) CB Michael Jolivette (knee) and RB Sean Jones (arm) and OT Brandon Phillips and OT Darren Safranek are out. CB Luis Nunez (groin) is questionable.

For the Cougars, most of the 17 players who have been dinged up in recent weeks are healthy or close to it. The most notable expection is OL Josh Parrish (broken leg), who likely won't be ready to suit up until Arizona State next week.

NOTABLE NOTES:

Barry Thompkins and Warren Moon will be calling the game for Fox Sports.

Arizona has not won a game in the month of October the last two seasons, bringing an 0-7 mark into this weekend's game.

This will be the third consecutive year the Cougars and Cats have played in Tucson.

The 'Cats have surrended only four fumbles the entire year --- that's just one less than WSU's Devard Darling has lost all by himself this season.

Arizona owns a 20-10 series lead over the Cougars, and have won seven of the last nine meetings.

Cougar safety Erik Coleman is on track to follow former secondary mate Billy Newman into the Cougar Century Club. Coleman leads the club in tackles with 52, which, presuming the Cougars receive a bowl invitation, puts him on track to reach 100 stops for the season. Newman had a 105 tackles in 1999 and 100 in 2000. Coleman also has two TDs this season -- one on a fumble return and another on blocked punt return.

The Cougars are on pace for back-to-back Pac-10 crowns for most sacks. The Pumas have 25 so far, with DT Rien Long leading the way with 6.5 of them. DE Isaac Brown has five.


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