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Arizona vs. Washington State: Getting to know the Cougs

Yet another pass-happy offense for the Arizona defense this week

William Mancebo

After last week's performance against UCLA, the Arizona Wildcats may be happy to see a pass-heavy offense coming to town in the Washington State Cougars.

The Wazzou passing offense is the 7th-best in the nation, racking up 365 yards per game.  QB Connor Halliday ranks fourth nationally in passing yards per game.

"Strong arm, tough guy, can make every throw you want," said Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez.  "He can make all the throws, and they will make all the throws."

But with all this passing comes interceptions, and Halliday definitely has his fair share.  He's thrown 18 picks on the year, and 20 touchdowns.  Compare that with B.J. Denker's 11 TD passes and 4 INTs.

"A lot of passing, a lot of moving on the field gives everybody a chance to make plays this week," said Tra'Mayne Bondurant.  "Even opportunity for all of us to go out there...and hopefully get a lot of interceptions this week."

"Gotta make 'em pay for throwing the ball so much," added Jared Tevis.

"It's always fun to have a lot of passing in there," continued Tevis.  "We're going to try to get after the quarterback and make him make bad decisions and hopefully that will give us the opportunity to get a lot of interceptions."

Bondurant finished with "I love taking the ball from the quarterback.  I'm looking forward to it really, can't wait."

"I love taking the ball from the quarterback.  I'm looking forward to it really, can't wait." - Tra'Mayne Bondurant

Gabe Marks has more than twice as many receptions as the next closest receiver, so getting good coverage on him will be key.  Jonathan McKnight failed to do this against Colorado's Paul Richardson.  A different guy on Marks would be a good idea.  Marks is averaging just over 80 receiving yards per game on seven catches a game.  Vince Mayle is just one TD reception behind Marks' six.  Mayle is 6-3, 240, so he's definitely more of a threat if and when the Cougars are in the redzone.

The lack of rushing game has hurt that redzone offense, as WSU ranks 108th in the nation in redzone efficiency, 11th in the Pac-12.  Teondray Caldwell and Marcus Mason have the most carries this year, but third-stringer Jeremiah Laufasa has picked up seven of the team's nine rushing TDs this season.

This offensive set up certainly benefits Arizona, as last week's debacle against the Bruins' running game showed.  Although Arizona struggled at Cal, the Wildat secondary is much healthier now than it was for that game, so they should be able to keep this one-dimensional offense in check.


Nothing jumps out that is particularly scary about the Cougar defense.  They rank 10th in the conference in both rushing and passing defense, and are allowing 32.7 points per game, also 10th in the Pac.

The one thing that they do have is a high number of passes intercepted.  They're tied with Arizona at 12 passes picked off.  Senior safety Deone Bucannon leads the team with five, and also has two fumbles recovered and three fumbles forced.

"I think he's a sure-fire NFL guy," Rodriguez said.  "Maybe a first day pick, and one of the best safeties not just in the league but the country.  He's just fantastic."

One of the best safeties not just in the league but the country   - Rich Rodriguez

Safe to say he'll be the one Cougar player to watch.  But last week, Anthony Barr was the UCLA player to watch, and he ended up with no stats at all.  So maybe RichRod and the offensive coaches come up with a way to nullify, or at least lessen Bucannon's impact.

Up front, DE Xavier Cooper leads the way with four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss this season.  He's also the biggest guy on the WSU D-line at 6-4, 303 lbs, so if anyone can rattle Denker and get some passes batted down, it's him.

This is a game where I expect better than an Arizona-average number of rushing yards.  I'm talking 300+ as a team.

By the Numbers

Here's how the Cats and Cougs match up numbers-wise.  Numbers in () are national ranking

Arizona Washington State
Total offense (ypg) 458.9 (36th) 417.1 (58th)
Passing offense (ypg) 187.6 (101st) 365 (7th)
Rushing offense (ypg) 271.3 (12th) 52.1 (123rd aka last)
Scoring offense (ppg) 34.8 (33rd) 29.8 (58th)
Scoring defense (ppg) 22.0 (30th) 32.7 (94th)
Total defense (ypg) 384.3 (53rd) 453.1 (101st)
Passing defense (ypg) 213.9 (29th) 269.2 (105th)
Rushing defense (ypg) 170.4 (73rd) 183.8 (83rd)

Mike Leach

Leach is in his second year at Washington State, having compiled a 7-14 record in Pullman so far.  Prior to that, he spent 10 years as the head coach at Texas Tech.  The Red Raiders made a bowl each and every year that Leach was the head man in Lubbock.  It all came crashing down with that weird conflict with Craig James, but who knows what really happened there.

Prior to being the head coach at Texas Tech, Leach was the offensive coordinator at Iowa Wesleyan (1989-91), Valdosta State (1992-96), Kentucky (1997-98) and Oklahoma (1999).  That Oklahoma team scored 20 more points per game than the year before, and improved from 101st in the country to 8th in terms of scoring offense.  Last year, Washington State averaged the second-most passing yards in school history.

Arizona/WSU series history

The Wildcats have owned the Cougars going 25-13 all-time, 13-7 in Tucson.  Thanks to the new division alignment, these two teams haven't played since 2010, but Arizona had defeated WSU five straight years from 2006-10.

In 2010, the No. 17 Wildcats rolled into Pullman and won 24-7, even after Nick Foles left the game with a knee injury.  Matt Scott played almost three full quarters in that game, and threw for 139 yards.  Keola Antolin had two rushing touchdowns in the first half, and Nic Grigsby added a third early on in the second half.  Shaquille Richardson had two picks in that game.

For more Washington State coverage, make sure you visit CougCenter