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First look at the Washington State Cougars

The Wildcats travel to Pullman looking for an upset

Washington State v Colorado Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Fresh off their bye week, the Arizona Wildcats (5-5, 4-3) head north to take on the Washington State Cougars (9-1, 6-1) in their final road trip of the regular season.

Sitting at 5-5, UA has two opportunities to achieve bowl eligibility.

However, this weekend’s matchup will be viewed by many as an unlikely victory for the Wildcats, as Washington State has been ranked inside the top 10 for three straight weeks.

Saturday’s kickoff is schedule for 8:30 p.m. MT and will be televised on ESPN.

First look at Washington State

  • Week 4 loss at USC (39-36)
  • Week 5 win vs. Utah (28-24)
  • Week 8 win vs. Oregon (34-20)
  • Week 9 win at Stanford (41-38)
  • Week 11 win at Colorado (31-7)

Key Offensive Players: Gardner Minshew II (QB), James Williams (RB), Dezmon Patmon (WR), Easop Winston (WR)

Key Defensive Players: Peyton Pelluer (LB), Jahad Woods (LB), Jalen Thompson (Safety), Skyler Thomas (Safety)

Series History: Arizona leads, 27-16

Last Meeting: Arizona 58, No. 15 Washington State 37 (Oct. 28, 2017 in Tucson)

Streak: Arizona has won seven of last 10 meetings

The Cougars enter this contest as one of only three teams nationally ranked in the top 20 for both total offense and total defense. They rank 18th in total offense with 470 yards per game and 20th in total defense by allowing 324.1 yards per game.

The other two teams you ask? Alabama (4th in offense, 8th in defense) and Clemson (9th in offense, 2nd in defense).

The level of adversity that Washington State has faced leading to the season opener has been well-documented. Head coach Mike Leach deserves an immeasurable amount of credit for making this season what it has become.

With the quarterback position being undetermined heading into fall camp, East Carolina graduate transfer Gardner Minshew seized an opportunity to thrive in this air-raid offense.

During the two seasons at ECU in which he saw playing time, the Pirates won a total of six games. That made their record over those two seasons 6-18. It should be noted that Minshew posted respectable numbers. He threw for 3,487 yards while completing 57.9 percent of his passes with a 24:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Leach saw the potential, but did he have any idea it could be this good? Through 10 games this season, Minshew has already recorded 3,852 yards while completing 69.6 percent of his passes with a 29:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

He has already recorded more passing yards and touchdowns in 10 games than he did in his 17 with ECU.

The Cougars have four guys who have more than 500 receiving yards and 40 catches. One of these players is running back James Williams, who has accounted for 943 total yards and 12 touchdowns.

His ability to effectively run the ball (4.2 yards per carry on 103 attempts) but also be a factor in the passing game (63 receptions) will be a difficult matchup for the UA linebackers.

The other three players with more than 500 yards receiving and 40 catches are Dezmon Patmon (724 yards, 52 receptions), Easop Winston (561 yards, 44 receptions) and Davontavean Martin (513 yards, 55 receptions). They also account for 17 receiving touchdowns and have all recorded at least two 100-yard receiving games.

This type of offensive productivity is expected in Leach’s scheme. What’s not expected is this type of defensive dominance as well.

Not only do they have a top-20 defense, they also rank 15th in total sacks with 30, and 42nd with 66 tackles for loss. They do a tremendous job of creating pressure in the opposing backfield and against the run. The Cougars are allowing just 125.4 rushing yards per game.

The most intriguing part about this defensive production is it’s not just one or two players. This is total team effort, led by sixth-year senior Peyton Pelluer. Last weekend against Colorado, Pelluer tied the WSU record for most games played with 51. This weekend he will likely be in sole possession of the record.

Now that Khalil Tate appears to be healthy once again and Arizona has had an extra week to prepare for the Cougars, it should make for an interesting matchup. The line opened with Washington State as 10-point favorites.

If there was a time for the Wildcats to erase the early-season disappointment, this is the time. This will be the stage for Kevin Sumlin and his team to show that they deserved all of the preseason hype and remain in contention for a Pac-12 South championship.