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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Secondary for Arizona needs to be ready for vaunted air attack of the Cougs

Courtesy Luke Hollister
Washington State running back James William dives for a first down against Oregon defense on Saturday, Oct. 1 in Pullman, Wash.

Saturday’s 1 p.m. matchup in Pullman, Washington between Arizona football and the No. 25 Washington State Cougars pits two teams on opposite ends of the Pac-12 Conference spectrum. 

Arizona (2-6) is currently on a five-game losing skid and needs to win out to retain its chances of a bowl game, while Wazzu (6-2) has won six in a row and reached the top-25 rankings for the first time this season.

The stability in the backfield and at the quarterback position has been a key in each team’s performance this season. 

Cougars junior quarterback Luke Falk leads an air-raid style offense for WSU that scores 39 points per game and averages just over 50 passes, ranking them No. 4 in Division 1 for attempts. Falk ranks No. 2 in the nation with 365.8 yards passing per game and has found the most success in the end zone with wide receiver Gabe Marks. The senior wideout has caught nine of Falk’s 24 touchdowns and is the school’s career leader with 33.

“This week’s a whole different system to prepare for, and this will be as challenged as we’ve been from a pass defense standpoint,” Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I don’t think you can just show one defense or expect to be in the same coverage the whole game or they’ll eat you up.”

Accompanied by a trio of running backs managing a total 16 touchdowns on the ground while the school ranks second-to-last in rush attempts, the Cougars are off to their best start since head coach Mike Leach’s arrival. 

WIth both head coaches in their fifth season at their respective schools, Leach has the 2-1 advantage in the meetings, including a 45-42 victory in Tucson a year ago. The Wildcats have won four in a row at Martin Stadium and were ranked No. 15 for their 59-37 victory when they last traveled to Pullman in 2014. 

It shows the turbulent nature of the Pac-12, as the Wildcats’ 7-2 conference record in 2014 was atop the South division while the Cougars 2-7 placed them last in the North division.

For an Arizona team that looks to the running game as the foundation of its offense, receiver Samajie Grant will again play at running back. In the Wildcats 34-10 loss to Stanford last weekend, the wide receiver convert rushed 19 times for 64 yards. Having not played the position since high school, the senior impressed both teammates and coaches with his athleticism.

“He’s an all-around athlete, so that transition from wide receiver to running back wasn’t that big of a movement for him,” senior wideout Trey Griffey said.

“We’re gonna keep him there,” Rodriguez said. “With our injury situation at running back, I’m glad we have Samijae.”

Grant paired with either Anu Solomon or Brandon Dawkins in the backfield will be going up against Pac-12’s best rush defense, allowing under 115 yards per game. Rodriguez has both quarterbacks available with hopes that either will be able to revive a team that ranks No. 11 in the conference in scoring.

“There’s some things in the passing game that looked like we were a little rusty,” Rodriguez said. “We can play better overall at that position and I think we will going forward.”

For the Arizona defense, turnovers will be crucial to stay in the game. Falk has only thrown for five interceptions this season but had a pick-six on the opening drive of Wazzu’s 31-28 loss at Boise State in Week 2.

“We try to change it up and be unpredictable for the offense,” Arizona senior linebacker Jake Matthews said. “I think we have a good gameplan going every week, we just have to do a better job of executing it.”

Kickoff will be at 1 p.m., Saturday afternoon, with the game available on the Pac-12 Networks.

Follow Mike Adams on Twitter.

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