By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 17th-ranked Arizona Wildcats will attempt to bounce back from their first setback, as they tangle with the Washington State Cougars in a Pac-10 bout this weekend at Martin Stadium.
After opening the season with four straight wins, including an upset of then ninth-ranked Iowa, the Wildcats were handed their first defeat, a 29-27 loss to Oregon State last weekend.
“It’s kind of frustrating coming off a bye week. We should have been a lot more on top of things. We prepared for them for two weeks,” Arizona defensive end Ricky Elmore said. “I don’t know if we were just sluggish from the week off, but something needs to change.”
The loss capped a four-game homestand for Arizona, which was playing its first game as a top-10 team since 1999. The Wildcats dropped all the way down to No.17 following the defeat and they are now out for redemption in their first road game since opening the season with a win at Toledo on September 3rd.
The Cougars meanwhile, continued their losing ways under head coach Paul Wulff, falling 43-23 to No.3 Oregon last weekend, though the game was a bit closer than the score would indicate.
“I’m disappointed,” said Wulff, who fell to 4-27 at WSU. “We had a lot of opportunities out their today to score more points and play a little better defense.”
It was the fourth loss in a row for WSU, which picked up its only win of the season in a 23-22 decision over Montana State, a FCS program.
As far as the all-time series is concerned, Arizona holds a 24-13 advantage over WSU and the Wildcats picked up a 48-7 victory in Tucson last season.
Nick Foles threw for a career-high 440 yards and three TDs, but it wasn’t quite enough for Arizona in a narrow loss to OSU this past weekend. Foles, who led two late-game TD drives to beat Iowa and Cal, didn’t have enough to overcome OSU despite the big game that included a 35-of-46 effort on pass attempts. Still, Foles has enjoyed a good start to the campaign and he is averaging 305.8 ypg through the air, while completing an efficient 74.9 percent of his tosses.
Juron Criner has been Foles’ main target and he too was spectacular last weekend, pulling in 12 balls for 179 yards and a score. The explosive WR is now averaging 106.2 receiving yards per game, with a team-high of three TDs.
Despite some talented backs, the Wildcats haven’t gotten much from their ground attack this season, averaging only 116.4 ypg. Keola Antolin’s performance stood out the most against OSU, as he ran for 70 yards and a score, while catching four balls for 40 yards and another TD.
Arizona has one of the top pass defenses around heading into last weekend, but that all changed when OSU threw for 393 yards on a successful 30-of-42 pass attempts. Following the performance, Arizona dipped from eighth to 42nd nationally in pass efficiency defense.
The defense, though, continued to prove strong against the run, limiting a good OSU ground attack to just 93 yards on 35 carries. For the season, the Wildcats are permitting just 99.6 ypg on the ground and opponents are averaging a mere 2.8 yards per carry.
Leading the Arizona defense is Paul Vassallo, who has 33 stops and a sack to his credit. Justin Washington has also enjoyed a fast start and he tops the roster in TFLs (seven) and sacks (four), to go with 23 tackles.
WSU hung tough against Oregon last weekend and were about to make things really interesting until QB Jeff Tuel was picked at the goal line with the Cougars trailing 36-23 late in the third quarter. It was a critical mistake, but the only one by Tuel, who passed for 245 yards and a TD on 25-of-40 attempts. Considering WSU’s lack of a ground attack, averaging just 86.8 ppg, Tuel has done a rather nice job this season, passing for 246.3 ypg with nine TDs against five INTs.
Jared Karstetter and Marquess Wilson have provided Tuel with some weapons to work with, as Karstetter paces the squad with 33 catches and four TDs, while Wilson is tops with 515 receiving yards. Against Oregon, it was Karstetter who turned in a noteworthy performance, logging 10 catches for 106 yards.
The big problem for the Cougars this season has been their defense, which is allowing a whopping 42.8 ppg and 517.5 total ypg. The unit has been equally as bad versus the run and pass, giving up 254.7 ypg on the ground and 262.8 ypg through the air.
Facing Oregon’s potent attack last weekend, the Cougars were shredded for 252 rushing yards and 304 passing. The Ducks completed 21-of-27 pass attempts and averaged 8.3 yards per play against WSU, which tried to keep things close with three forced and recovered fumbles. Alex Hoffman-Ellis had one of those forced fumbles and he finished with eight stops and a sack as well. He currently paces the club with 40 stops, two sack sand a pair of INTs for the season.
The Wildcats are coming off a disappointing result, but they should have no trouble returning to the win column with a rout of a far less talented WSU squad.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona 41, Washington State 17