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“Air”Zona: Wildcats race out to lead via aerial attack

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Simon Asher | The Daily Wildcat

Washington State wide receiver Davontavean Martin drops a pass during the UA-Washington State game on Saturday, October 28.

The Arizona Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the nation of late, and they got off to yet another blazing start Saturday evening. In front of a loud and raucous homecoming crowd, the ‘Cats raced out to a 10-point lead over No. 15 Washington State Cougars. Unfortunately for Arizona, a muffed punt gave the favored Cougars a chance to crawl back into the contest. A flurry of activity followed as Arizona scored ten unanswered points. The Cougars answered with a late touchdown, but the ‘Cats responded with a 57-yard field goal by Lucas Havrisik, making the halftime score 23-14. 

Early in the game, quarterback Khalil Tate was unstoppable, leading the ‘Cats to points on his first two drives. The athletic signal caller was at his best through the air, competing 5 of 7 passes in the opening quarter. His two incompletions were catchable as well, with one crucial drop costing the ‘Cats a chance in the redzone. What was once a limited, ground based offense looked more like something out of a video game, as Wildcat receivers ran free through the Cougar secondary.

Tate’s best throws came downfield, as he consistently found receivers behind the Cougar coverage and delivered timely throws. His 41-yard pass to Tony Ellison set up Arizona’s second touchdown, a 17-yard catch and run by Shun Brown. Tate’s accuracy was key on the scoring drive, as he led Ellison to perfection. 

While Arizona took to the air, the ground game struggled to gain traction. What had been a formidable rushing attack was reduced to rubble by a quick, athletic Washington State defense. Tailbacks J.J. Taylor and Zack Green gained a combined seven yards in the opening half. Tate spent most of the first half looking for a place to run, but he couldn’t hide from defensive lineman Hercules Mata’Afa. Mata’Afa played like an All Pac-12 selection, Arizona didn’t have an answer for the undersized speed rusher. Tate did eventually find a lane, and exploded for an 82-yard run, which put the Wildcats in position to expand their lead. 

Washington State’s air raid offense has been a difficult assignment for most teams, the Cougars are one of the most prolific passing teams in the country. Unfortunately for Mike Leach, the Wazzu passing attack withered in the desert. Quarterback Luke Falk struggled to complete passes, finishing the half with a completion percentage of 56.5 percent. Falk was benched late in the second quarter, backup Tyler Hilinski led Washington State on their best offensive drive of the half. Hilinski finished that impressive drive with a six-yard touchdown run. His jaunt gave the Cougs hope late in the half, as they pulled to within a touchdown. 


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