There’s something about this edition of Washington State (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12) football that defies conventional wisdom. The Cougs have played their best football on the road in 2013 as witnessed by their win Saturday over favored Arizona (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) in Tucson.
Three of their five wins have come on the road away from Pullman, WA.
FINAL: WSU 24- ARIZONA 17
This was a team victory for head coach Mike Leach’s Cougars.
The combination of efficient offense and a defensive effort which minimized explosive plays translated into the 5th victory on the year for WSU.
“All wins are team wins…huge contributions by defense, huge contributions by offense…so it was good.”
– WSU Coach Mike Leach
Junior quarterback Connor Halliday clearly has continued his development. Watching the young man from Spokane evolve, he managed the game nicely, especially with a win hanging in the balance.
The Wildcat defense mixed up their coverage effectively, confusing Halliday repeatedly going down the stretch. But rather than force the ball, he took a sack or scrambled out of bounds.
Those decisions by Halliday were critical to keep his team in the ball game.
Washington State moved the ball well in the first quarter, jumping out to a 10-0 lead. Pairing good offense with solid defense established the tone for the Cougs while maintaining their confidence.
Arizona wasn’t sharp to begin play and after getting pushed around at the line of scrimmage they finally woke up offensively on their third possession to get back in the game before it spiraled out of control.
The ‘Cats put together an impressive 15-play 90-yard drive about 5-minutes into the second quarter to go up 14-10 and snatch momentum from the Cougs.
Special team play by both ball clubs was, well, inconsistent at best.
WSU had a chance to finish the first half strong by driving down the field with the clock ticking down. However, their final drive of the half stalled at the Arizona 46. Where Coach Leach is known for going on fourth down, he sent out the punting unit with the charge to pin the ‘Cats deep.
Inexplicably, senior Mike Bowlin shanked the ball for a net 3-yard punt. That’s right. A 3-yard punt.
Just as inexplicably, Arizona place kicker Jake Smith doinked his field goal attempt to salvage points on the final play of the first half.
So much for momentum.
Poor special team play reared it’s ugly head for the Cougs on the opening kickoff for the second half when Bowlin’s kickoff hooked out of bounds giving Arizona nice field position on their first possession.
Inspired Cougar defense snuffed out the Arizona drive quicker than the television commercial time that followed. WSU recovered one of two Wildcat fumbles to set up Halliday and company on the Arizona 31-yard line.
Following an inital WSU first down, Halliday was sacked when he couldn’t find an open receiver. By maintaining possession of the ball, he learned the importance of playing within the structure of Leach’s offense. On the next play Halliday rifled a pass over the middle to freshman River Cracraft for a touchdown to regain the advantage, 17-14.
Arizona would knot the score at 17-17 with a 25-yard Smith field goal the next time they got their hands on the football.
Offensively, neither team could do much over the next 15-20 minutes of the game.
It appeared the ‘Cats would regain the lead with about 7-minutes remaining on the clock when Smith did it again. You probably guessed it. His field goal attempt from just 34-yards, typically referred to as a “chip shot”, caromed off the left goal post falling harmlessly to the field turf.
If WSU could put together a scoring drive beginning at their own 20-yard line, the game would be theirs for the taking.
Not only did Halliday engineer a nice 10-play 80-yard drive culminating with a touchdown pass to Isiah Myers, he ran nearly 5-minutes off the clock.
Repeating their offensive collapse with the game on the line of a week ago against UCLA, Arizona failed to score against a Cougar defense which stood tall when it counted.
“They did a good job finishing the game. We just need to continue to duplicate this,” said Leach during his post game interview with Bud Nameck.
Ka’Deem Carey got his yards, 132 on 26 carries, without making much of an impact on the outcome of this Pac-12 contest. Credit defensive coordinator Mike Breske with drawing up an excellent game plan that included using both BUCK linebackers Kache Palacio and Destiny Vaeao for added strength to slow down the Arizona rushing game.
The stat of the game has to be one that actually won’t be found on the stat sheet. It’s also one of the more surprising elements of this Cougar victory. Their leading receiver, sophomore Gabe Marks didn’t catch one pass. Eleven WSU players had at least one reception by Marks was shut out.
In the end, Washington State played better than their opponent for 60-minutes of football.
Yes. Players, coaches and fans can celebrate the moment, a victory for the first time since 2004 in Tucson.
WASHINGTON STATE NOTES
- WSU had 10+ receivers record a catch for the eighth straight game and have had 10+ receivers catch a pass in nine games this season. They scored their 10th rushing touchdown of the season, the most since 13 in 2011.
- Washington State recorded three conference road wins for the first time since 2006 and recorded five wins for the first time since 2007. That’s also three conference wins by the Cougs for the first time since 2007.
- Andrew Furney kicked field goal No. 42 of his career, fourth-most in school history
- Justin Sagote made a career high 12 tackles
- Connor Halliday upped his career touchdown pass total to 46, tying Drew Bledsoe for fifth all time. He passed for 319 yards, giving him 3,417 for the season, third-most in WSU history and recorded his 12th career 300-yard game, seventh this season. Halliday has completed 341 passes this season, most in WSU single-season history and his 435 pass attempts are second-most in school single-season history.