BY Adam Lewis 06:30AM 11/16/2013

Cougars must stop three-game skid in desert

The Cougars (4-5) need to win two of their final three — at Arizona, vs. Utah and at Washington — to become bowl eligible. WSU features the nation’s No. 7 pass offense.

Washington State QB Connor Halliday has six 300-yard games and two four-TD games this season. / Greg Davis Photography

In a freakish scheduling wrinkle, the Washington State football team’s game Saturday (11 a.m., Pac-12 Networks) against Arizona (6-3, 3-3 Pac-12) will be its third in 28 days. The Cougars (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) are well-rested and mostly-injury free — a rare occurrence for a program that typically wears down as the season progresses — but they’re reeling.

They were outplayed by a combined score of 169-83 in losses to Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State. The WSU defense that nearly shut out USC earlier in the season yielded a combined 1,874 yards of total offense.

“In the first part of the season we were all doing our jobs,” said safety Deone Bucannon Monday. “We were solid and we weren’t worried about the other team. We just need to get back to understanding that the person next to you has your back no matter what.”

Bad tackling, leaky pass coverage — OSU quarterback Sean Mannion probably just threw another touchdown with safety Taylor Taliulu in coverage — and a recent inability to stop the run played roles in the beat-downs.

“We came out flat against ASU and that’s not something we want to continue to do,” said freshman receiver River Cracraft Monday. “We’re really taking this seriously.”

They must find a way to contain Wildcats running back Ka’Deem Carey, who in his senior season has 1,221 rushing yards (5.7 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. Carey is the type of explosive, shifty runner that gave the Cougars fits in losses to the Cardinal, Sun Devils and Ducks.

Arizona runs the same spread-formation, read-option, run-heavy offense that WSU’s 83rd-ranked rushing defense (183.9 yards per game) struggled to counter during their five losses.

What it means for the Cougars: A win would allow for a look at the big picture. At 5-5 (3-4 Pac-12), WSU would be better than last year’s 3-9 team, marking the type of progress fans expected when athletic director Bill Moos hired Mike Leach in 2011. A loss would make the Cougars (4-6,2-5 Pac-12) desperate, with remaining games against Utah and the University of Washington. The Cougars would be pegged to lose both, and Martin Stadium would be deserted anyway when Utah visits Pullman Saturday because students will be on Thanksgiving break.

What it means for the Wildcats: Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, noted mostly for his offensive schemes, has an unenviable task this week: Inspiring his defense after UCLA linebacker Myles Jack ran all over it in last week’s 31-26 loss to the Bruins. The Wildcats are fourth in the Pac-12 South with games ahead against Oregon (in Tucson) and Arizona State (in Tempe). Saturday is a must-win for Rich-Rod.

Key Matchup: Quarterback B.J. Denker vs. WSU secondary. Denker is the only starting quarterback in the Pac-12 who has a worse QBR than WSU quarterback Connor Halliday. Bucannon and cornerback Damante Horton are capable of forcing turnovers (combined for nine interceptions). They’ll need to on the odd occasions when Denker doesn’t hand off the ball to Carey or take it himself (641 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns).

Prediction: Wildcats 49, Cougars 31. Remember that WSU team that went into a raucous Jordan-Hare Stadium and were just a couple breaks away from beating Auburn, 9-1 and ranked No. 7 in the country? Me neither. Carey is going to go full beast mode in the desert.

SERIES: Dates to Oct. 5, 1963, when the Cougars won 7-2 in Spokane. Washington State faces Arizona for the first time since 2010 and is making its first trip to Tucson since 2009. The Wildcats lead the all-time series 25-13 and have won five meetings in a row with the Cougars, including the last two matchups in Tucson. WSU’s last win in the series came in 2004, in Tucson, 20-19 behind two fourth quarter touchdown passes from Josh Swogger to Jason Hill.

WSU HEAD COACH Mike Leach (91-57 overall, 7-14 WSU): Hired Nov. 30, 2011 to replace Paul Wulff, who went 9-40 in four seasons, Leach’s 2012 Cougars led the Pac-12 in passing at 330.4 yards per game and finished the season by beating Washington in the Apple Cup. In 10 seasons at Texas Tech (2000-09), Leach earned 10 bowl bids. The Susanville, CA., native, who was raised in Cody, WY., recorded a school-record 84 victories. Leach’s offenses led the nation in passing six times and three times accumulated the most total yards. In 2009, the Red Raiders finished second in passing offense and fourth in total offense, both marks tops among BCS conference schools. Prior to Texas Tech, Leach spent one season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma (1999). That year, the Sooners set six Big 12 and 17 school records.

WSU STATS / NOTES

  • SEASON SUMMARY: Record: 4-5. Home: 2-2. Road: 2-3. Neutral: 0-0. Vs. Pac-12: 2-4. Vs. Pac-12 North: 1-3. Vs. Pac-12 South: 1-1. Vs. Non-Conference: 2-1.
  • Points For: 268 (29.8). Rushing Yards Per Game: 52.1. Passing Yards Per Game: 365.0. Total Offense Per Game: 417.1.
  • Points Against: 294 (32.7). Opp. Rushing Yards Per Game: 184.1. Opp. Passing Yards Per Game: 269.2. Total Defense Per Game: 453.3.
  • The Washington State passing offense ranks seventh in the country at 365.0 ypg with quarterback Connor Halliday averaging the fourth-most passing yards per game at 344.2 and owning the sixth-most yards (3,098). The offense is on pace to set school records for pass attempts (624 last season), completions (323 set last season) and passing yards (4,120 set in 1997).
  • Halliday owns two of the top three single-game passing marks in the FBS this season including the top one (557).
  • The Cougars have rushed for nine touchdowns, more than last season’s total of six.
  • WSU had 10 receivers catch a pass in each of the last seven games and had 10+ players catch a pass eight times.
  • Safety Deone Bucannon, recently named a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist, given to the top defensive back in college football, leads the Pac-12 and is No. 25 in the country with 85 tackles and tied for the conference lead with five interceptions. He also owns team-highs of three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. The Fairfield, CA., native has three double-digit tackle games and is the first Cougar to be named a Thorpe semifinalist since Jason David in 2003.
  • Bucannon enters the week fourth in WSU history for career tackles (355) and fourth in career solo tackles (247).
  • Halliday has six 300-yard games and two four-touchdown games. Halliday went 58-for-89 for 557 yards and four TDs at No. 2 Oregon, setting Pac-12 and WSU single-game records for pass completions, attempts, passing yards and total offense. His 58 completions tied an NCAA Division I record with Andy Schmitt of Eastern Michigan in 2008 and were the second-most completions in NCAA history. The 89 pass attempts were the second-most in NCAA history and were a Division I record, surpassing the previous mark of 83 thrown by Drew Brees in 1998.
  • WSU’s 2014 season opener against Rutgers is Aug. 28 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. The game was scheduled Aug. 29. Rutgers begins play in the Big Ten Conference next season. The Cougars will make the return the trip to face the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, N.J. Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.

COUGARS OFFENSIVE LEADERS

Rushing

Player G Att. Yards TDs Long Y/G
Marcus Mason 9 51 221 1 17 24.6
T. Caldwell 9 34 178 1 24 19.8
J. Laufasa 9 31 150 7 13 16.7
Austin Apodaca 9 7 20 0 10 2.2
Team Total 9 156 469 9 24 52.1

Passing

Player G Att. Cmp. Yards TDs/INT Effic.
C. Halliday 9 482 302 3098 20/18 122.87
Team Total 9 524 323 3285 22/20 120.52

Receiving

Player G Rec. Yards TD Long Y/G
Gabe Marks 9 63 721 6 47 80.1
Rickey Galvin 9 31 250 2 18 27.4
K. Williams 8 29 273 0 43 34.1
River Cracraft 9 28 355 1 35 39.4
Marcus Mason 9 28 255 1 68 28.3
Vince Mayle 9 27 373 5 72 41.4
Team Total 9 323 3285 22 72 365.0

COUGARS DEFENSIVE LEADERS

Category Skinny
Tackles Bucannon 85, Monroe 54, Sagote 52
Sacks Cooper 4.0, Coen 3.0, Gauta 3.0
Interceptions Bucannon 5, Hornton 4, Brown 2
Passes Defensed Brown 5, Gauta 3, Monroe 3
Forced Fumbles Bucannon 3, Cooper 2
Fumbles Recovered Pole 2, Bucannon 2

Pac-12 Standings / North

Schools Overall Conf. Next
Stanford 8-1 6-1 Sat, at USC
Oregon 8-1 5-1 Sat, vs. Utah
Oregon St. 6-3 4-2 Sat, at ASU
Washington 6-4 3-4 Nov. 23, at OSU
Washington St. 4-5 2-4 Sat, at Arizona
Cal 1-9 0-7 Sat, at Colorado

Pac-12 Standings / South

Schools Overall Conf. Next
Arizona St. 7-2 5-1 Sat, vs. Oregon St.
UCLA 7-2 4-2 Nov. 23, vs. ASU
USC 7-3 4-2 Sat, vs. Stanford
Arizona 6-3 3-3 Sat, vs. WSU
Utah 4-5 1-5 Sat, at Oregon
Colorado 3-6 0-6 Sat, vs. California

ARIZONA NOTES: The Wildcats (6-2) have victories over Northern Arizona (35-0), UNLV (58-13), Texas-San Antonio  (38-13), Utah (35-24), Colorado (44-20) and California (33-28) and losses to Washington (31-13), USC (38-31)  and UCLA (31-26) . . . The  roster lists two players with ties to the state of Washington, LB Sir Thomas Jackson (Seattle) and CB Justin Samuels (Camas) . . . Rich Rodriguez is in his 29th year of coaching and second as head coach at Arizona. He served as head coach at Michigan from 2008-10 and West Virginia (2001-07). He is a West Virginia graduate.

Washington State 2013 Schedule/Results

Date Opponent WSU Rnk Opp Rnk W/L Score Rec.
8/31/13 at Auburn L 31-24 0-1
9/7/13 at USC 25 W 10-7 1-1
9/14/13 vs. So. Utah W 48-10 2-1
9/21/13 vs. Idaho W 42-0 3-1
9/28/13 vs. Stanford 5 L 55-17 3-2
10/5/13 at Cal W 44-22 4-2
10/12/13 vs. OSU L 52-24 4-3
10/19/13 at Oregon 2 L 62-38 4-4
10/31/13 vs. ASU 25 L 55-21 4-5
11/16/13 at Arizona —– —–
11/23/13 vs. Utah —– —–
11/29/13 at Wash

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