What little hope University of Arizona football fans were holding out to be able to watch their Wildcats play in a bowl game this year is pretty much gone.
Washington State killed those hopes with a stifling defense that kept the Cats contained for four quarters and an offense that ran roughshod, scoring on its first six possessions of the game en route to a 69-7 drubbing that extends Arizona’s losing streak to six games.
Arizona would have had to run the table in their final four regular-season games, beginning with a win over the No. 25-ranked Cougars, to secure the six wins needed to become bowl eligible. Now they would have to win the Pac-12 championship game to get a reprieve.
And now they also face the certainty of a losing record, the first during the five-year tenure of head coach Rich Rodriguez.
That is even more troubling since last season Rodriguez barely avoided the same fate, posting a 7-6 finish. Worse yet, the Cats won three conference games last year, nothing to brag about, but this season they’re winless in Pac-12 play and face South Division leader Colorado next.
It’s a good thing Wildcat fans have a nationally-ranked basketball team that is just beginning its season. They’ll need that distraction to keep their minds off what is happening on the football field. Arizona has been outscored by 165 points during the six-game skid.
The secret to staying with Washington State was to keep the Cougars from getting out to a fast start. Their only two losses were a direct results of slow starts.
That idea went away early yesterday afternoon. The Cougars scored 24 points in the first quarter and rolled into halftime with a 38-7 lead.
It was hard to find a bright spot in Arizona’s play. After struggling against Stanford, the quarterback play was even worse against WSU. Rodriguez used three quarterbacks – Anu Solomon, Brandon Dawkins, and Kahlil Tate – but couldn’t find a solution to his problems. The trio combined for 128 yards passing, completing just under half of their pass attempts, with Solomon contributing 122 yards on a 9-for-13 performance.
On the other side, WSU quarterback Luke Falk left the game before the third quarter ended after putting the game out of reach and turning things over to back-up Tyler Hilinski. Falk, a redshirt junior, threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns, while the redshirt freshman Hilinski added another 163 yards through the air.
The Arizona defense had no answer for either QB. Hilinski completed 15 of 17 attempts and Falk was even more impressive, hitting 32 of his 35 targets. His 91 completion rate is a new team record.
WSU piled up 614 yards of total offense and its 69 points is its highest score in almost 20 years and the most ever against a Pac-12 opponent.
Arizona’s ground game wasn’t any better than its aerial game. Samanjie Grant ran for a team-high 77 yards, while the team managed just 158 rushing yards – 50 of those on just one play.
Rodriguez was admittedly embarrassed by his team’s performance, choosing not to blame his troubles lately on a plague of injuries this season, and told the media he expected his players to still be able to turn things around for the remaining three games on the schedule, which includes the season finale against rival Arizona State.
The hard part of that plan will be figuring out a way to get it started with a just a week to prepare for No. 15-ranked Colorado.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)