Washington State football preview: Three ways Arizona could win, three ways to lose
Ryan Revock / The Daily Wildcat
The UA defenselines up against UCLA in the red zone on Saturday at Arizona Stadium.
Let’s face it: Last week’s game against UCLA was brutal.
There is no way the Arizona Wildcats want a repeat of a loss like that. The football squad surely practiced extra hard this week and studied film exhaustively.
The Wildcats will win this Saturday against the Washington State Cougars because they want to. They don’t want to embarrass themselves — they want to redeem themselves.
Simply put: The Arizona Wildcats want this win.
Watch out for defense
Washington State is leading the league with 20 interceptions thrown.
This will be the Wildcats defensive squad’s time to shine.
Arizona can take the W if the defense shows resilience and puts pressure on Washington State’s junior quarterback, Connor Halliday, forcing him to throw picks.
But Arizona can’t just force him to throw interceptions; it needs to capitalize on them.
Secure the lead
In order to win this one, the Wildcats need to score early and score often. In all of Arizona’s wins this season (save against Colorado, where it trailed the Buffaloes by a field goal), it has gained the lead early and maintained it throughout the game.
Once Arizona falls behind, though, it can’t seem to catch up (See: UCLA). In fact, in two of the Wildcats’ three losses this season, they didn’t obtain the lead at all — and in the third, which came against UCLA, their early three-point lead lasted all of one play. Scoring on that first drive is crucial for the Wildcats to gain momentum early. Senior quarterback B.J. Denker once said the tone of the game is set by that opening drive.
Therefore, the Wildcats cannot fall behind Washington State by more than a field goal. But if they can score first and gain the cushion of a lead, then the game is theirs for the taking.
— Scarlett McCourt
—Follow Scarlett McCourt @scarlettnoelani
Giving Up The Deep Ball
We’ve said this every week, but let’s try this again — maybe with more emphasis this time. Arizona will lose if its defense continues to give up deep touchdown passes, especially early in the game.
Last week the Wildcats lost by five points to nationally ranked UCLA. Lots of things can happen in the course of a game, but one would think that if Arizona hadn’t given up the 66-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage, it might have won.
Washington State has an Air-Raid offense. It will throw the ball close to 80 times a game. The Cougars’ offense averages the seventh most passing yards per game in the country, at 365. Their game plan will be to run past and throw over the Arizona defensive backs.
Don’t pressure the Quarterback
Once again, the defensive line must put pressure on Cougars’ quarterback Connor Halliday — but also sack him. Against UCLA, the Arizona defense pressured quarterback Brett Hundley but wasn’t successful enough to bring him down. While Halliday is not as mobile as Hundley, the defense’s inability to actually sack Hundley allowed him to escape the pocket and find open receivers. Not giving up the deep ball starts with putting pressure on the quarterback so he is uncomfortable and has less time to throw.
Arizona’s offense is at its best when it’s quickly gaining yards and snapping the ball in under 10 seconds. Choppy, inconsistent and short possessions are bad for any offense, but especially Arizona’s, since the base of the offense relies on rhythm and playing in space.
Arizona hasn’t shown that consistent fast pace in the last two weeks. Right out of the gate, the Wildcats will need to knock Washington State back on its heels, or else they could find themselves playing catch-up.
— Luke Della
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella