SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — No. 17 Arizona needs a road win in Pullman on Saturday to get back into the Pac-10 race. Washington State just needs a win over a major college team to prove it is improving.
Arizona (4-1, 1-1 Pac-10) suffered its first loss of the season against Oregon State last weekend, costing the Wildcats their first top-10 ranking in a decade. They will be playing on the road for the first time since blowing out Toledo in their Sept. 3 season opener.
“It’s no disgrace to be 4-1 with the teams we played,” said coach Mike Stoops, pointing to home wins over The Citadel, Iowa and California.
Washington State (1-5, 0-3) has not beaten a Pac-10 team since 2008 or an FBS team since last season. The Cougars are three-touchdown underdogs.
Arizona put up 541 yards of offense in losing at home 29-27 to Oregon State. The Wildcats may reach such heights again against a Washington State defense that is last in the nation, allowing more than 500 yards per game.
Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, who leads the league’s top passing attack at 328 yards per game, took no satisfaction in throwing for a career-high 440 yards against Oregon State.
“We didn’t score enough points on offense,” Foles said. “That’s what it comes down to. It’s not about yardage or statistics.”
The conference loss dropped Arizona behind Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford in the Pac-10, but receiver David Douglas said there is plenty of season left to achieve the Wildcats’ goal of winning a league title.
“We all know that everything we have set out in front of us is still within reach,” Douglas said. “We are still playing for everything.”
Foles downplayed any suggestion that WSU, which is 1-18 in Pac-10 play the past three seasons, is one of the league’s easier road opponents.
“Washington State has definitely improved as a team,” Foles said. “They have been putting up points on people and keeping it close with some of them. We have to expect their best game.”
Arizona will likely try to re-establish its running game, which totaled only 14 carries against Oregon State. Nic Grigsby, Keola Antolin and Greg Nwoko have been able to move the ball, despite limited opportunities.
“We try to run, but we’ve been more productive throwing the football with the opponents we’ve played this season,” Stoops said.
Washington State has been able to move the ball in its last two games, losses to UCLA and No. 2 Oregon. Coach Paul Wulff can see the confidence growing on his team.
“We have so many guys playing their first season, they are growing week to week,” Wulff said.
Second half letdowns are hurting the Cougars.
“We still have to finish a four-quarter ballgame,” Wulff said.
The Cougars remain weak on defense, which will be a big problem against Foles and receiver Juron Criner, who caught 12 passes for 179 yards last week. Criner leads the Pac-10 in receiving yards with 531.
“We have to make sure we don’t give him (Foles) a lot of easy throws,” Wulff said.
Washington State has its own potent passing attack, with quarterback Jeff Tuel completing 58 percent of his passes for 1,478 yards. Receiver Marquess Wilson leads all freshmen in the nation with averages of nearly five catches and 85 yards per game. Receiver Jared Karstetter is averaging 88 yards per game in Pac-10 play.
But Arizona gives up an average of just 14 points per game, best in the Pac-10.
“They have one of the best pass rushes in the conference,” Wulff said.