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Will Cougars end their defensive woes vs. Arizona?

By Jim Moore

A weird stretch to Washington State’s schedule ends on Saturday when the Cougars finally play a football game again.

I can’t recall a time when Washington State played only one game in almost a month. Mike Leach’s team faced Oregon on Oct. 19, Arizona State on Halloween, and now this game against Arizona on Nov. 16.

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Washington State allowed an average of 56 points per game in losses to Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona State. (AP)

After the loss to the Sun Devils, as much as they’re my favorite team, I was glad to take a break from Cougar football.

As you know, we were awful that night. No amount of stealing candy from my kids’ trick-of-treat bags made that one tolerable. The Sun Devils beat us 55-21, and let’s be honest, they could have scored 80 points if they’d wanted to.

What the heck has happened to our defense? I didn’t think it was as good as the nationally-ranked defense that stifled USC, Southern Utah and Idaho, but I didn’t think it was as bad as the one that has allowed 169 points the last three games. That’s an average of 56 points a game against Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State.

I guess, technically, we’ve still got a shot at making it to a bowl game, but who in his right mind thinks that will happen after what we’ve seen in the last month.

We have to win two of our last three against Arizona, Utah and Washington. We’re 12.5-point underdogs against the Wildcats. I’m guessing that Utah will be a slight favorite over the Cougs in our last home game Nov. 23. The Dawgs will probably be 17-point favorites in the Apple Cup.

The defense might be able to slow down the Utes, but the Wildcats and Huskies? Not so much.

Which means quarterback Connor Halliday will have to be lights out for us to have a shot in the other two games, starting Saturday in Tucson.

Quarterback B.J. Denker has been more of a throwing threat of late for Arizona, but the Wildcats will still rely on running back Ka’Deem Carey, the second-best rusher in the country, averaging 152 yards a game.

After watching us in the last three games, I’m more cynical than optimistic but hoping that it’s just a reflection of the opponents we’ve been playing than regression on our part. Then again, it’s not like the Beavers are any great shakes, and they still blew us out in the fourth quarter.

Wish I felt differently, but I can’t see us beating Arizona. What makes anyone think that Halliday will magically transform himself and have a no-interception day? What makes anyone think the Cougs will stop Carey?

If the game were at Martin Stadium, we’d have a chance to win. But it’s not so we don’t.

Pessimism reigns until the Cougs show glimmers of hope that we haven’t seen for 60 minutes since the Cal game.

Prediction: Arizona 41, Washington State 23.
Season record against the spread: 5-4.