If Mike Leach is a fan of chaos, he must be be thrilled with Washington State’s circumstances after Saturday night’s bumper-cars festival in the desert. Besides losing 58-37 to an Arizona team it beat a year ago 69-7, the Cougars coach may have no idea whom to start at quarterback next weekend against Stanford.
Leach benched unproductive incumbent Luke Falk (93 yards passing), nearly the Pac-12 Conference career leader in yardage, for the final series of the first half. Tyler Hilinski, the redshirt sophomore backup, guided a brilliant two-minute touchdown drive, then committed second-half mayhem, wiping out his 509 yards passing with four interceptions.
The astonishing tumult — the Cougars had 646 yards of total offense and a 17-minute advantage in time of possession and lost by three touchdowns — dropped the 15th-ranked Cougars (7-2, 4-2) out of a tie for the Pac-12 North lead with Stanford. The teams play Saturday in Pullman.
The defense, ranked second in the conference, had no answers for dazzling sophomore QB Khalil Tate, who rushed for 158 yards and passed for 275 yards on just 10 completions. RB J.J. Taylor added 157 yards on 13 carries.
Hilinski actually pushed the Cougars to a 27-23 lead halfway through the third period, but the Wildcats deployed a lightning offense, with consecutive scoring drives that each took two plays and totaled 1:10 of game time.
After the Cougars answered with a career-long, 56-yard field goal from Erik Powell, Tate needed just three more plays and another 1:08 to go 75 yards, the last 49 on his own breakaway option run. The runaway triumph avenged the embarrassment of a year ago, the most lopsided loss for Arizona since 1948.
Hilinski completed 45 of 61 passes, ran for two TDs and threw for three more, but was wild with some throws, including an interception returned 66 yards by Colin Schooler for a touchdown.
“We played really hard and really dumb throughout the night,” Leach said. “We tried to do too much stuff and got reckless. On defense, we’d come close to sacks, close to turnovers and close to tackling the running back. Then somebody wouldn’t be in the right gap and we’d give them the shooting match.
“There were doors everywhere and we kept running into the wall.”