Brock Huard’s keys: No. 8 WSU vs Arizona Wildcats in Pullman

Nov 15, 2018, 11:04 PM | Updated: 11:08 pm
WSU coach Mike Leach and mustachioed QB, Gardner Minshew, take on Arizona Saturday. (AP)...
WSU coach Mike Leach and mustachioed QB, Gardner Minshew, take on Arizona Saturday. (AP)

Brock Huard gets the call of a WSU football game for the second straight week, as his ESPN broadcast crew goes to Pullman on Saturday for the No. 8 Cougars’ matchup against Arizona.

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While the 5-5 Wildcats are still trying to clinch bowl eligibility, they won’t exactly be an easy opponent for Mike Leach’s Cougs, and the fact that WSU can’t afford any sort of misstep if it hopes to crash the College Football Playoff only adds pressure to Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. contest on 710 ESPN Seattle.

Here’s what Huard has to say about the WSU-Arizona matchup after seeing the Cougars up close last week in Colorado.

Complimentary football is the Cougs’ path to victory.

What stood out to me seeing WSU against Colorado is the complimentary football and patient ball the Cougars are willing to play. They are No. 1 in the Pac-12 in time of possession, and Mike Leach’s willingness to fit the three phases together and play that complimentary style of football is a big reason why they are 9-1. To also see how engaged and active Coach Leach was throughout the game, not just huddling the offense together but pulling the entire team together between the third and fourth quarters, was telling and impressive.

Take advantage of an Arizona team out of its element.

WSU has won 12 in a row at home and made traveling to Pullman one of the most difficult trips in the conference. The cold this time of year, the demanding travel and a hostile home crowd should all play to the Cougs’ advantage, especially against a warm-weather Arizona team. In fact, Wildcats offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone told me this week, “We have no way to practice for the cold conditions we will face Saturday night. We are in Tucson after all.”

No room to breathe.

When it comes to the College Football Playoff, the Cougars aren’t in control of their own destiny – they need a lot of help to be one of the final four teams. Based on the last two weeks, and especially the most recent rankings, it will depend on the teams in front of the Cougs losing to make them a credible candidate, at least until we get to the Apple Cup. If the Cougs were to win out over the next three weeks they will absolutely need help – and a lot of it – to get into the playoff, but there is no question they would also move up a spot or two in the rankings.

The importance of WSU’s running game.

Balance is not derived from a 50/50 pass/run split for Leach, but much rather taking advantage of the numbers and space the defense allows. The 18 rushing TDs (compared to eight in 2017) is most indicative of the Cougars taking what the defense gives them, as well as the game management and game-calling of QB Gardner Minshew.

What makes the Wildcats dangerous.

Arizona has speed, and lots of it. It is the No. 1 rush offense in the Pac-12 and also isn’t afraid to possess the ball and lean on its stud running back J.J. Taylor. He is fourth in the FBS in yards and toted the rock 40 times in the Wildcats’ win over Colorado two weeks ago. Add in a healthy Khalil Tate at quarterback, terrific speed at the linebacker level and the Cats coming off a bye and this portends to be a much more difficult matchup than the Buffaloes were a week ago for WSU. Oh, and the target and pressure both get bigger as the expectations rise for a program and QB that haven’t been in this spot together before.

The story if the Cougars win will be…

Undoubtedly the same as what WSU has done all year: playing well in all three phases. The Cougars are one of the few teams in college football that ranks in the top 25 in both total offense and defense, and that complimentary football that has gotten them to this point will ultimately take them to a conference title if they can keep playing it.

Heaps: Why WSU QB Minshew is shooting up NFL Draft boards

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Brock Huard’s keys: No. 8 WSU vs Arizona Wildcats in Pullman