(15) Arizona (5-1) at Washington State (2-5) (ET)
GAME NOTES: Two teams coming off of byes meet in a Pac-12 Conference duel on Saturday, as the 15th-ranked Arizona Wildcats face off against the Washington State Cougars at Martin Stadium.
Arizona probably needed a week off following a 28-26 loss at home to USC in Week 7 action. The Wildcats had ascended into the top-10 following a stunning 31-24 upset of then No. 2 Oregon, but the letdown against the Trojans was a major one. The bye was also needed considering the Wildcats, who are 5-1 overall and 2-1 in league play, have played five straight games decided by seven or fewer points.
"I think our guys understand now that playing 60 minutes is truly what we have to do. I don't remember a stretch of my career that we've had five straight games that have literally gone down to the fourth quarter, and it is probably going to happen even more throughout the season," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "It's not easy on some of us older coaches, but where we are right now, our players understand and embrace that playing for 60 minutes is important to win."
Washington State also knows a little bit about close games, having played back-to-back bouts against Utah and California, each of which was decided by a single point. However, when the Cougars last took the field they were stamped out by Stanford, 34-17. Despite the incredible passing numbers of the Washington State offense, the team is still just 2-5 overall and 1-3 against the rest of the Pac-12.
"We (have) just got to play a whole game," Washington State coach Mike Leach said after the loss to Stanford. "You got to get a whole game out of it and it's going to be physical and nasty and Stanford's got the luxury of playing a lot of people, but we have to stand in there with what we got and do better and be more complete."
Arizona holds a 25-14 advantage in the all-time series with Washington State, including a record of 10-4 in Pullman. However, last season the Cougars escaped with a 24-17 victory, ending a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats.
Slowing down Arizona's offense has been nearly impossible this season. The Wildcats, who have been an offensive power every season since Rodriguez took over, have gone to another level in 2014, as they rank fourth in the country in total offense (557 ypg).
Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon is at the center of the offensive storm, playing far beyond his years. He has completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 2,136 yards and 15 touchdowns, while being intercepted just four times in 278 attempts. He is second in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (356). He completed an incredible 43-of-72 tosses for 395 yards, but only one touchdown, in the loss to USC.
Solomon can't do it alone, obviously, and the depth at receiver has been a big help. Cayleb Jones (39 receptions, 592 yards, six TDs) is easily the most impressive threat on the roster, leading in just about every receiving category. Austin Hill (25 receptions, 345 yards, three TDs) is a strong playmaker as well, with Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant also important pieces to the puzzle.
Solomon may be called upon to keep throwing frequently this week, as leading rusher Nick Wilson (574 yards, six TDs) is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. If Wilson can't go, Terris Jones-Grigsby (299 yards, three TDs) will step into the starting role.
For all its offensive firepower, Arizona could still use some work on defense, as it is surrendering 26.8 points and 432 yards per game. Normally that is more than enough to keep the Wildcats on top, but any slip from the offense would be disastrous, which was evident against USC.
Washington State is going to throw the ball, a lot. That really isn't news. The Cougars are the No. 1 passing offense in the country, and it's not even close. They have amassed 3,430 yards through the air in seven games, making them the only team with more than 3,000 yards.
Connor Halliday has thrown for 3,344 of those yards as the nation's leading passer. He has more completions (292) than any Pac-12 quarterback has pass attempts. Additionally, he has thrown for 28 touchdowns, completed 66.7 percent of his throws and has kept himself to eight interceptions, which is impressive considering he has thrown 438 passes.
A number of receivers benefit from the pass-happy offensive scheme. Vince Mayle (57 receptions, 781 yards, seven TDs), River Cracraft (67 receptions, 676 yards, seven TDs), Isiah Myers (53 receptions, 627 yards, seven TDs) and Dominique Williams (24 receptions, 496 yards, six TDs) will all need to be monitored by Arizona's secondary.
What has held Washington State back has been its defensive effort. The Cougars are allowing 35 points and 443 yards of total offense per game, ranking 10th in the Pac-12 in each category.
Aside from the loss to Stanford, Washington State has been competitive just about every week. Some bad luck and unfortunate timing have kept the Cougars from being victorious very often, however, at home, against an Arizona team that doesn't possess great defensive power, the Cougars have a real shot.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Washington State 41, Arizona 39