The Arizona Wildcats have kept open the door to become bowl-eligible thanks to their upset win at UCLA last weekend. To keep that dream alive, though, they must beat the Washington State Cougars (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) on Saturday afternoon at Arizona Stadium.
Who will win this matchup? Here’s what our staff thinks:
Kim Doss — Arizona wins 31-28
It might be time to give the Arizona defense a little credit. They proved last week what they can do when motivated and tuned in. There’s plenty of motivation this week with the comments by Jayden de Laura about his former team and some of the pretty vile things a few of the fans of that team are saying about him on social media.
The motivation needs to be team motivation, though. If it’s just de Laura motivation, it could backfire. I am rolling the dice that the entire team will be motivated, and it won’t just be about their quarterback.
These guys need to win out to get to a bowl game. That would be a huge step forward for a program that won a single game last season and none the season before. It’s been a rough few years for Arizona football. These last two games of 2022 could start the rewrite of what it means to be a Wildcat.
On average, Arizona outscores the typical Wazzu opponent by just under 12 points per game. Wazzu scores just over 10 points less than the average Arizona opponent. The Wildcats do not have to hit their average of 31.20 points per game if they hold the Cougars to no more than their average of 26.90 points per game.
With WSU’s tendency to focus on the pass, this isn’t a team that is usually a major threat at the running game, which was Arizona’s Achilles heel before last week. Regardless, this should be a close one.
Ezra Amacher — Washington State wins 24-20
I really want to believe that Arizona is going to maintain its momentum and put itself in position for bowl eligibility, but I have a feeling this game will just slip away from the Wildcats. WSU is 20th in the country in scoring defense and has allowed fewer than 20 points in all but one game this year, a barnburner 44-41 loss to Oregon. The Cougars went through a tough stretch in October, losing three straight, but are playing their best football of late. Cameron Ward is a dynamic quarterback who has seemingly figured out his accuracy problems — he’s thrown for one interception in the past five games compared to seven in the first five games. Arizona’s defense will need to be at its best.
What scares me most about this matchup is de Laura attempting to do too much to ‘prove it’ to his former team. de Laura already plays with his foot on the accelerator a little too hard and makes some terrible decisions when under resistance. The Cougars will be able to identify de Laura’s weak spots and force him into a couple costly mistakes that turn the tide against Arizona.
Brandon Combs — Arizona wins 49-38
This is a game I predicted Arizona would win during fall camp....and I’m sticking with that prediction.
Wazzu handled their business against ASU, however, there wasn’t much I was impressed with. The Coug offense isn’t as high powered as years past and Cameron Ward hasn’t been as explosive as everyone predicted before the season started. It might have something to do with the most porous offense lines in the conference. Ward has been sacked 33 times this season. For those who aren’t strong in the public math realm....that’s a lot.
Another interesting stat is Ward is near the top of the conference in completions (240) and attempts (377), however, he is middle of the conference in completion percentage (63.7%).
Another weapon to keep an eye on also resides in the backfield. Running back Nakia Watson has started to hit his stride late in the season. In his past two games, Watson has racked up 282 yards and 4 touchdowns on 36 carries. He’ll is someone else that the defense will need to ensure they stop.
Wazzu’s defense isn’t the greatest, but it isn’t the worst either. They have an extremely active defensive front and have tallied 27 sacks so far. Undoubtedly, the offensive line will need to play strong, especially after the loss of Jordan Morgan. Something that might come into play is the Coug’s horrible track record on 3rd down. They are dead last in allowing 3rd down conversions (47-of-129) and second to last in 3rd down conversion percentage (36%).
Throw all these factors together, Arizona’s high-powered offense, Arizona playing at home, and UA’s momentum after beating UCLA, and I don’t see Wazzu escaping Tucson with another W in the column.
Adam Green — Washington State wins 38-28
It would be easy to get caught up in last week’s victory over UCLA. It was a great performance from the team, in all three phases, and provides hope for not only the future but bowl eligibility this season.
Further, while Arizona is fighting for the postseason their opponent, Washington State, clinched a spot last week. That could help.
Oh, and there’s that whole Jayden de Laura revenge game thing.
This sets up to be an interesting matchup that pits a prolific offense against a solid defense. These are not your older brother’s Cougars, and they will present a stiff test for an Arizona team that will now have to move the ball without star left tackle Jordan Morgan. The Cats withstood his loss against the Bruins, but this week’s opponent is a bit tougher on the defensive side of the ball.
Conversely, Washington State’s offense has not been great, though it should be better than it has been. Was last week’s performance by Johnny Nansen’s group a turning point or a fluke? We can hope for the former while fearing the latter.
So yeah, I’m picking Washington State. The feeling here is their defense will do just enough against Arizona’s defense, while the Cats — probably with a costly turnover — fall short.
Brian J. Pedersen — Arizona wins 34-30
At this point in the season, a big thing to factor into predictions is motivation. A lot of teams right now are playing out the string, and other than rivalry games there might not be anything to play for. That would have been the case for Arizona had it not shocked UCLA, but with even the smallest chance of bowl eligibility the Wildcats now have a reason to give it their all in this one instead of focusing entirely on getting back the Territorial Cup.
Washington State, on the other hand, has already locked up a bowl bid, and another win here won’t move it up enough in the pecking order to make for a better destination (everything is better than Pullman, really). And with their rivalry game, the Apple Cup, a week away, the Cougars could easily end up sleepwalking through the one.
Put all that together, and it spells Arizona winning back-to-back games for the first time in more than three years.