Games in Pullman haven’t been very nice for the Arizona Wildcats lately.
The Washington State Cougars dropped 55 first-half points on the Wildcats and racked up 605 yards of total offense en route to a 69-28 bludgeoning on Saturday night. It was the second consecutive time Wazzu scored 69 against Arizona at home, this version somehow making the Cougars’ 69-7 win in 2016 seem merciful.
The 55 points were the most yielded by Arizona in one half in school history, topping the 52 it gave up to USC in the final 30 minutes of a game back in 1923.
Any momentum that Arizona (5-6, 4-4 Pac-12) might have created in beating Oregon and Colorado prior to its bye week didn’t appear to make the trip to Pullman. The Wildcats trailed 14-0 after less than eight minutes in, a slew of personal fouls setting the tone for what would be by far the worst outing of coach Kevin Sumlin’s first season in charge.
Cougars QB Gardner Minshew threw a school-record seven touchdown passes, five in the first half, and had 473 yards on 43-of-55 passing. Arizona’s insistence on rarely rushing more than three defenders gave the FBS passing leader ample time to find his many targets, 11 of which caught throws before halftime.
Arizona gained 431 yards, with Khalil Tate throwing for 294 yards and four TDs on 18-of-30 passing, but the Wildcats turned it over four times and WSU converted those turnovers into 28 points.
Those giveaways included a pair of fumbles that were recovered in opposite end zones, one that kept Arizona from scoring late in the first half and the other coming on a kickoff return that Cedric Peterson allowed to bounce in front of him and eventually was recovered by WSU’s Kainoa Wilson for a rare defensive special teams touchdown.
Wazzu (10-1, 7-1) marched 75 yards on nine plays on its first drive, aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on safety Scottie Young Jr. early on. Poor tackling and open receivers also contributed to James Williams’ 1-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead just 4:16 into the contest.
The Cougars made it 14-0 with 7:38 left in the first quarter on another 1-yard run, this one by Max Borghi. That came after Tate was intercepted on Arizona’s third offensive snap and two more personal fouls—face masks by Tony Fields II and PJ Johnson on consecutive plays—aided a WSU attack that didn’t need any extra help.
Arizona’s third drive finally resulted in some positive movement, mostly because of Tate’s mobility. He scampered for 12 yards on one play, rolled out to complete a pass for a first down on another and that set up a 24-yard TD catch by Shawn Poindexter to pull the Wildcats within 14-7 with 3:19 left in the first quarter.
It was Poindexter’s fifth consecutive reception that went for a score. He would extend that streak to six later in the game.
A fourth personal foul, and third face mask, set up Wazzu’s next TD. Kicker Lucas Havrisik was called this time, grabbing the face mask of the kick returner to prevent him taking it to the house, and a few plays later Minshew found Calvin Jackson for a 27-yard strike to go up 21-7 with 19 seconds left in the opening frame.
Wazzu made it 28-7 three minutes into the second quarter on an 11-yard TD pass from Minshew to Dezmon Patton.
Arizona needed only 1:16 to get back on the scoreboard, with Tate doing most of the work. He avoided a blitz on 3rd-and-7 and scampered for 33 yards, his longest run of the season, and one play later found Tony Ellison past his man for a 37-yard TD reception. That pulled the Wildcats within 28-14 with 10:43 left in the first half.
Minshew’s and Jackson connected again to put the Cougars up 34-14 with 7:08 left in the second.
As if Arizona’s defensive issues weren’t enough, its special teams then contributed a major gaffe for WSU’s next score when Peterson didn’t field a pooch kick and the Cougars eventually fell on the ball in the end zone for a fumble recovery TD just four seconds after the previous score to make it 41-14.
Williams made it 48-14 for Wazzu with 3:22 left in the first half on a nine-yard TD catch from Minshew.
Arizona looked like it was going to score just before halftime, a 30-yard reception by Bryce Wolma getting the Wildcats inside the WSU 3-yard line with less than two minutes to go. But then Gary Brightwell lost a fumble at the goal line and two plays later Minshew threw his fifth TD pass of the opening half when he fired a 50-yard strike to Tay Martin with 10 seconds remaining.
Wazzu had 407 yards in the first half, 311 through the air. That was more yardage than four of Arizona’s other 10 opponents had all game, including Oregon (270) and Colorado (383).
Tate found Shun Brown for a 2-yard TD on Arizona’s first drive of the second half and then forced a three-and-out on defense, providing a very brief glimmer of hope. Sumlin opted to punt on 4th-and-6 from the WSU 44 on the next possession but the Cougars missed a 27-yard field goal, with Tate and Poindexter connecting on a 2-yard TD reception to make it 55-28 late in the third quarter.
With 11 TD passes this season, Poindexter is one off the school season record.
Minshew threw his sixth TD pass to Jamire Calvin with 12:37 left in the fourth quarter to put the Cougars up 62-28. He then broke the school single-game record with 7:06 left on a 9-yard connection with Easop Winston.
Arizona, which entered Saturday still alive for the Pac-12 South title (before Utah beat Colorado earlier in the day), now must beat rival Arizona State (6-5, 4-4) at home on Nov. 24 to become bowl-eligible. It will be without at least one starter for the first half after sophomore safety Scottie Young Jr. was ejected for targeting early in the fourth quarter.