Not a lot of winning to enjoy lately if you’re a Pac-12 football fan living in Arizona. The state’s two conference representatives, Arizona State and University of Arizona, have combined for eight straight losses.
The Wildcats are coming off a bye week, which has given them some time to recover from a multitude of injuries that have been instrumental in their last five consecutive losses, resulting in a 2-6 overall record and a winless journey through five conference games.
Arizona would have to run the table and win its final four games just to be bowl eligible.
The Sun Devils are enjoying their turn at taking a week off, one which is being used in much the same way as their rivals in Tucson. ASU had nine starters sitting out last week’s 54-34 loss to Oregon.
On the defensive side of the ball, six of the current starters were not in the starting line-up when the season began. It’s the defense that has posed the biggest problem again this season, resulting in a 5-4 overall record and four losses out of the last five games.
The 734 yards the ASU defense allowed against Oregon was the second-most in program history. Pass defense has been particularly disappointing this season, giving up an average of 398 yards per game – worst in the country.
While the ASU coaching staff uses their week off to nurse players back to health, and maybe do the same for its defense, we’ll find out whether head coach Rich Rodriguez was able to use his time off to break the Cats’ five-game skid Saturday against Washington State in Pullman.
This time it will be Arizona’s pass defense that will be tested. The Cougars’ offense is more balanced this year, but still relies heavily on its passing game. Two weeks ago they piled up nearly 400 yards through the air in a 37-32 win over ASU. Their ground game netted 52 negative yards.
But the Cats have been struggling to work around key injuries to their linebacking corps – most notably senior Cody Ippolito who is out with a torn ACL – and have been using unseasoned players in the back end of the defense. Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles is a sophomore playing safety and Isaiah Hayes is a true freshman at the safety spot. Sophomore Jace Whittaker is learning the game at cornerback and Dane Cruikshank is a redshirt junior but is a first-year starter at cornerback.
Injuries have also put a dent in the effectiveness of the offense so far this season. Starters at running back, Nick Wilson and JJ Taylor, have been watching from the sidelines while Rodriguez tries to fill the void in the backfield by moving Samajie Grant, his senior wide receiver, to running back.
And there has been total upheaval at quarterback, where RichRod was down to his third option, freshman Khalil Tate, at that key position after injuries to Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins. Tate made his first collegiate start two weeks ago in the 48-14 loss to the Trojans.
Solomon and Dawkins returned for last week’s Stanford game, with Solomon making his first appearance since injuring his knee in the first game of the season and Dawkins taking the field for the first time since an Oct. 8 concussion suffered in the Utah loss. Both played against the Cardinal, but only managed to complete a combined five passes on 18 attempts.
The offense has put up 99 points during its five-game losing streak, while the defense has allowed 198 points. Something has to give.
Washington State plays in the Pac-12 North, where it is tied with Washington for first place at 5-0. The Cougs have won their last six games and have moved into the national polls at No. 25.
Arizona is 0-5 in the conference and just looking to hold things together through four more games.
That won’t be easy. After WSU, the Wildcats host Colorado, the top team in the South Division.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)