As I do at the start of every season, I look at the Washington State football schedule and pick out the games I think the Cougars can win. This year I looked at the November 7th showdown against Arizona as a game WSU could possibly take. I'm not saying that they can't now, but Arizona has made a strong case to prove me wrong.
The Wildcats are ranked 18th in the country (in the latest BCS rankings) and are second place in the Pac-10 at 3-1 (they are 5-2 overall). Their conference record is a little bit deceiving because they still haven't played USC and Oregon. On the other hand, they would be undefeated in the Pac-10 if they wouldn't have suffered one of the strangest losses of the season to Washington (start watching at the :26 mark).
To put it simply, Arizona is much better than I thought they would be at the start of the year. Keep in mind though, the Wildcats don't blow people out. They have won their conference games by an average of eight points per game.
Arizona's offense is led by redshirt sophomore Nick Foles. He transferred to Tucson from Michigan State where he played one game as a true freshman. Foles didn't earn the starting job with the Wildcats until the fourth week of the season. He saw some playing time before that though as Matt Scott's backup. Foles has completed 72-percent (that's not a misprint) of his passes for 1,399 yards (a 233.2 ypg average) and 11 touchdowns (he's only tossed five interceptions). He poses a serious threat to the WSU defense.
If Foles wasn't enough to make you worried, the running game will cause some panic. Arizona has the 27th best rushing offense in the country. Nic Grigsby is the Wildcats best back, but they really spread around the wealth. Grigsby has racked up 535 yards (76.4 ypg) and five touchdowns this year. Keola Antolin (36.4 ypg, one TD) and Greg Nwoko (31.7, three TD) will also get some carries.
Talk about spreading the wealth, Arizona's receivers split up yards better than anyone. Juron Criner leads the Wildcats in yards (55.1 ypg) and touchdowns (five). Terrell Turner is the only wide receiver who has started every game this season. He averages 47.4 yards per game. David Roberts (42.9 ypg), David Douglas (39.7), and Delashaun Dean (21.1) will also get their hands on the rock.
Arizona's defense is pretty good, but they do allow more than 24 points per game. They have a tough time stopping teams once they are in the red zone. Opponents have scored 86-percent of the times they've made it inside the Wildcats 20 yard line, 68-percent of those red zone trips have resulted in touchdowns. The only problem is...Arizona has only allowed opponents into the red zone 22 times this season.
The Wildcats run defense ranks 17th in the country, allowing just 101 yards per game. That means Washington State will have a tough time moving the ball on the ground again, which in turn means it will be tough to get the passing attack going. If Arizona has a weakness on defense...it's through the air. The Wildcats allow more than 213 passing yards per contest. Oddly, they've allowed nearly as many rushing touchdowns (nine) as passing touchdowns (10) this season. Again, it comes back to that red zone defense.
It's getting hard to come up with new things to say about the Cougars. It's the same story every week. If the offensive line protects Jeff Tuel and the defense forces some turnovers...who knows what can happen. At this point, I'm just excited to see how much WSU improves every week. They really are a better football team than last year. With the experience they are getting this year, I see Wazzu winning maybe four games next year.
Not looking too far ahead, I need to give my prediction. The Wildcats are a 32 point favorite on Saturday. Again, I think the Cougars cover the spread (they've only failed to cover twice this year). Don't get me wrong, Arizona will win. I think they take it 42-14.
Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30pm on Fox College Sports. The game will also be replayed on FSN Northwest at 7:30pm.
If you haven't had a chance, be sure to read my previous blog. It was a report from Cougar practice on Tuesday. We talked to Paul Wulff, Jeffrey Solomon, and Alex Hoffman-Ellis as practice (click on their names to hear their interviews).
That's all I have for now.