Analysis: Arizona football can’t look back
Arizona football’s trip to the Palouse didn’t quite go as planned. The Wildcats took a mighty tumble in Pullman, Wash., falling to the No. 8-ranked Cougars 69-28 late on Saturday night.
Coming off of a bye week, Arizona was hoping to ride some of the offensive and defensive momentum that was acquired in back-to-back wins over Oregon and Colorado.
Instead, the ‘Cats reverted back to their early season woes and produced a performance that closely mirrored their 2016 rout at Wazzu.
Just two years ago, Washington State raced by Arizona to a tune of 69-7. Quarterbacks Luke Falk and the late Tyler Hilinski combined to complete 47 of 52 passes for 474 yards and six touchdowns.
On Saturday night, the Cougars led by Heisman dark horse candidate Gardner Minshew II, defended their home-field advantage and imposed their will on an overmatched team that looked cold and out of place from the get-go.
Minshew compiled an impeccable stat line, headlined by his 473 passing yards and a school-record seven touchdowns through the air. The Eastern Carolina grad-transfer, who nearly assumed a backup role for the Alabama Crimson Tide this offseason, has consistently proven that he is the conference’s most valuable player.
For Arizona, the 41-point loss served as a new low for head coach Kevin Sumlin’s team.
The Wildcats fumbled the football six times, surrendering possession on half of those occasions.
Redshirt sophomore running back J.J. Taylor was kept in check for all four quarters for the first time since early October. He finished the night averaging less than 3.5 yards per carry.
Arizona’s offense, as a whole, was far from efficient. Quarterback Khalil Tate initiated Arizona’s lackluster performance by heaving an underthrown pass down the field on the ‘Cats first offensive possession. A Washington State defensive back ended up making a leaping interception, ultimately swinging momentum into the Cougars’ favor. From there, there was no time to look back.
Wazzu ended up outscoring Arizona 21-7 in the first quarter, extending its lead to 55-14 by the time both teams headed into the locker room for halftime.
The Cougars’ 55 first-half points were the most that an Arizona team has ever allowed in a single half of play — outdoing an embarrassing record that stood for 95 years, when USC put 52 on the ‘Cats in the second half of a 1923 contest.
Arizona’s offensive shortcomings weren’t the sole reason for Saturday night’s pummeling. The Wildcats defense was as ineffective as they’ve been all season long.
Third-year defensive coordinator Marcel Yates witnessed a huge drop-off in his unit’s execution compared to Arizona’s previous two outings.
After shocking Oregon’s offense with a variety of pressures and well-timed takeaways and shutting the Buffs’ offense down when the game’s outcome was on the line, Arizona’s defense was unable to slow down Washington State’s dynamic air-raid attack.
Minshew had plenty of time to survey the field and target his receivers when the ‘Cats’ defense was playing zone coverage. With very little assistance coming in the form of pressure, Washington State’s offense was never at risk of making mistakes or turning the football over.
When Arizona’s defense tried switching up its game plan, choosing to play more man coverage outside — hoping to challenge Minshew to make tight— window throws and possibly create more backfield chaos, the results were nearly the same.
Wazzu’s collection of receivers had their way with each of the Wildcats’ defensive backs. There simply wasn’t anything Arizona could do well enough to prevent the Cougars from unleashing a 34-point second quarter.
By the time the Wildcats found themselves capable of making splash plays offensively, the game was too far out of reach.
Arizona did manage to score a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter when the Cougars were held scoreless, but it quickly fell back to mediocrity when Washington State commenced its second-half scoring in the fourth.
Arizona’s poor showing on both sides of the ball Saturday night was highlighted by an even more disastrous occurrence in the return game.
Halfway through the second quarter, already trailing 34-14, Arizona proved incapable of fielding a kickoff.
Receiver Cedric Peterson quickly advanced up the field to catch the kick on the fly — except when he closed in on the 20-yard line, he stopped dead in his tracks. Whether or not he misjudged the kick’s trajectory is a question that only Peterson can answer. Unfortunately for Arizona, the ball dropped to the turf and immediately bounced by Peterson’s body, which was positioned to field a ground ball.
The kick ended up being recovered by the Cougars as it trickled into the end zone and a flock of defenders swarmed to it.
The near impossible mistake came with more than seven minutes remaining in the first half, but it was the first of many signals on Saturday night that proved to seal Arizona’s fate in yet another epic downfall in the Palouse.
The ‘Cats will look to clinch bowl eligibility next weekend at home against in-state rival ASU in the Territorial Cup, but they’ll need to dispose of Saturday night’s nightmares before they try to avenge a season full of missed opportunities.
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