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Sunday, February 25, 2024
Feb. 25, 2024

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No. 19 Washington State looks to rebound from first loss hosting pesky Arizona

Wildcats coming off triple-OT loss at USC

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While his own team would probably get some consideration nearing the halfway point of the season, Washington State coach Jake Dickert has a quick answer for the most improved team he’s seen this season.

Arizona.

“I’ve watched pretty much every team and I think it’s evident and it’s obvious,” Dickert said. “The last two results against top 10 teams are no fluke.”

That makes this weekend a challenging matchup for Dickert and No. 19 Washington State hosting Arizona and looking to rebound after the Cougars suffered their first loss of the season last week.

Actually, last Saturday in Los Angeles was miserable for both Washington State and Arizona.

The Cougars (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) were overwhelmed by UCLA’s defense in a 25-17 loss to the Bruins. Meanwhile, Arizona had its finest showing of the season, taking No. 10 Southern California to triple overtime before falling 43-41 to the Trojans. That loss to the Trojans came a week after Arizona (3-3, 1-2) pushed No. 7 Washington into the fourth quarter before falling 31-24 at home.

All three of Arizona’s losses are by seven points or less and two in overtime, which means the Wildcats are a pesky, improving team. And a concern for the Cougars.

“When I look at our team, I don’t think there’s any reason, per se, that I could point to that says why we won or why we didn’t win,” Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said. “We just have to make one more play than we made at the right time and we could be sitting here having a much different conversation and probably be the story of college football.”

BOUNCING BACK

After putting up big numbers in the first four games, Washington State quarterback Cam Ward had one of his roughest days in his two seasons with the Cougars against UCLA. Ward was 19-of-39 passing with a pair of interceptions and was sacked three times. It was just the second time in Ward’s 18 games with the Cougars that he’s failed to complete at least 50% of his passes.

Arizona won’t be an easy opponent to get the pass game back on track. The Wildcats held USC’s Caleb Williams to 205 yards passing last week and Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. is the only passer to throw for more than 300 yards on the Wildcats this season.

FIFITA’S TIME

Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura has missed the past two games with an ankle injury, leaving his return to the Palouse in doubt.

Before transferring to Arizona, de Laura spent two seasons at Washington State, throwing for more than 4,700 yards and 34 touchdowns in 16 games.

When de Laura injured his ankle against Stanford, Noah Fifita replaced him and led the Wildcats on the game-winning drive.

Fifita has been solid with de Laura out, throwing for 535 yards and eight touchdowns in two games – both against top-10 opponents.

Everyone has short-term memories, everyone likes to live in the now, live in the present,” Fisch said. “Noah has done a fantastic job. Having two quarterbacks is better than none. I think we’re in a very good place at the quarterback position as we move forward.”

BANGED UP RECEIVERS

Washington State will play its second straight game without wide receiver Lincoln Victor, the Union High grad who was the favorite target of Ward early in the season. Victor suffered a high-ankle sprain in the Cougars win over Oregon State. The Cougars do expect Josh Kelly to play despite coming out of the UCLA game banged up. Kelly had eight catches for 159 yards three touchdowns against Oregon State but was held to five catches for 40 yards by UCLA.

FINAL TIME?

With Arizona headed to the Big 12 next season and Washington State facing a murky future, this could be the final meeting between the Wildcats and Cougars. Arizona leads the all-time series 27-19, but the Cougars have won three straight and six of the past eight matchups dating to 2013.

The first time the teams met came in 1963, a game won by Washington State 7-2.

There will be more points this time around.

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