The Arizona Wildcats and Washington State Cougars combined for seven touchdowns, one field goal, 52 points, and almost 500 yards passing in yesterday’s Pac-12 match-up.
And that was just the first half.
This game had all the offensive excitement of arena football as the two teams kept trading scores while piling up a combined 87 points.
Cougar sophomore quarterback Luke Falk threw for 335 yards before intermission as WSU ran up a 31-21 lead at the half. But the sophomore gets lots of practice. Washington State leads the nation in pass attempts per game, an average of 54.
Yesterday afternoon in Tucson, he passed that mark as he threw the ball into the Wildcat secondary 62 times. He completed 47 of those throws, to 10 different receivers, to rack up a total 514 yards to lead the Cougars in a see-saw scoring contest that eventually ended with a 45-42 WSU victory to ruin Arizona’s Homecoming weekend.
It marked the third consecutive Pac-12 win for WSU, the first time that’s happened in 12 years. And for Arizona, it put them under water in conference play at 2-3 and 5-3 overall – still a game shy of the six wins they will need to become bowl-eligible.
Last season, the Cats had their way with WSU when they traveled to Pullman and embarrassed the Cougars in front of their home crowd. This time, the tables were turned.
But each time, they gave fans who enjoy lots of offense their money’s worth. Last year the two teams combined for 994 yards. Yesterday they topped that with 1,114 yards and WSU used their vaunted “Air Raid” offense to methodically move up and down the field, picking apart the Wildcat defense at an alarming clip.
Arizona’s head coach Rich Rodriguez knew what to expect in this game. The Cougars were going to pass. And then they were going to pass some more.
But stopping the aerial attack was far more difficult than recognizing it. The 514 passing yards are the most any team has put up against an Arizona defense, eclipsing the previous mark of 511 set by Territorial Cup rival Arizona State seven years ago.
Coming into the game, Falk had already completed 35 passes this season for 20 or more yards each. After the Arizona game, that number has grown considerably. The Cougars owned the middle of the field in the Arizona secondary, finding plenty of opportunity for their receivers in that area.
If Arizona wasn’t sure about the Cougars’ intent, it became clear early as the visitors marched 78 yards in 10 plays on their first scoring drive – all passes except one – and drew first blood just 4 1/2 minutes into the game when wide receiver Gabe Marks took a Falk pass and ran the ball in for the final seven yards.
Marks made it 14-0 with 2:46 left in the half, this time using a screen-and-run for the final 43 yards of an 80-yard drive for the second score.
The redshirt junior would go on to score twice more to set a new school record for most receiving touchdowns in a single game. He finished with 97 yards on eight catches.
Cayleb Jones led the air attack for Arizona, grabbing eight catches for a career-high 131 yards.
The Arizona offense countered with two scores of its own in the second quarter to even things up at 14-14. Just 30 seconds into the quarter, senior running back Jared Baker punched the ball across the goal line on a 3rd & goal, and then the defense forced WSU to punt. Nate Phillips, a junior wide receiver from Basha High School in Chandler, took that kick and returned it 70 yards to mark the fourth time this season the Cougars have allowed a kick return for touchdown. The last time Arizona ran back a punt for a score was last season – against WSU.
But WSU regained the lead as Marks pulled in his third TD reception just eight minutes before the half, and four plays later the Cougars capitalized on an Arizona fumble when Falk lofted a pass into the corner of the end zone, over the Wildcat defender and into the hands of sophomore wide receiver Kyrin Priester.
Baker added another score for Arizona on a seven-yard run that capped an 8-play drive late in the quarter. But WSU picked up another TD and a field goal to take a 10-point lead into the locker room and then successfully hold Arizona at bay through the second half.
Anu Solomon started under center for Arizona, but Rodriguez decided in the third quarter to change to redshirt senior Jerrard Randall. That was midway through the quarter, right after the Cougars increased their lead to 17 points.
Rodriguez was counting on Randall’s foot speed to bring an extra dimension to the offense. He responded with 105 yards on 10 carries, but also threw for 137 yards.
Randall did provide some late-game thrills for the Arizona fans when he directed a five-play drive and hit wide receiver Johnny Jackson with a TD pass that brought the Cats to within three points with 44 seconds left to play.
An onside kick failed to return the ball to Arizona and the Cougars picked up a first down to enable them to run out the clock.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)