Interesting breakdown on the Arizona game, via CollegeFootballNews.com:
Here’s where the Pac-10 season really starts to take off. There’s one in-league game that’s basically a pick’em (Washington State @ Arizona), and two that the favorites ought to win by decent margins. Out of league, Oregon had better beat up Idaho if they want to have any kind of momentum when Arizona State comes into town, and Washington just has to hope the Irish are looking forward to Purdue’s visit and let themselves be vulnerable. Last week was a great week for the league, as there were some good wins and only one ugly loss. If Washington can somehow win at South Bend, the Pac-10 will have taken another big step forward. Oregon State at Arizona State is probably the game to watch this week, as both teams could really use a win. Arizona State is favored, but you never know; much, much stranger things have happened than Oregon State pulling out a win at Tempe.
Washington State (no line) @ Arizona
When looking at this game, it’s tough to identify one team that is significantly better than the other. This one ought to end up with a close line, most likely with Washington State favored by a point or two. At this stage of the year, that’s fair, since Arizona still has to show they can play well more consistently. They struggled against Northern Arizona, and didn’t look good against Utah. The Wisconsin game went better than expected for them, but you don’t want to read too much into one game.
Washington State has seemed to play at an overall higher level than Arizona. In the easy wins, Washington State blew the doors off of Idaho, instead of needing late cosmetic scores to make the game look good like Arizona did. Just as significantly, Wazzu has shown once again that they are able to play competitively outside of Pullman, playing decently at New Mexico.
The big key for Washington State, as always, is its defense and its ability to win the turnover battle. Heavner is a sophomore, so there’s a good chance he’ll make a couple of errant throws over the course of the game. The Cougars have to be watching for those and pick them off. Taking advantage of other teams’ poor execution seems to be a Washington State staple, so if Heavner is sloppy, they will get a couple of picks.
When the Cougars have the ball, they need just enough from their running game to keep the Wildcat defense honest and not focusing entirely on the pass. That may be a somewhat iffy proposition, as if you ignore the Idaho game, the Cougar ground game has been awful so far. Still, even if it ends up not being effective, simply their backs the ball once in a while may be enough to keep enough Arizona defenders in the box for the passing game to work. I think they may have to try occasional draws and screen passes to make sure that no one ignores their backs, but that’s doable for them.
On the Other Hand:
The thing with the Cougars is that it can be tough to pinpoint how good they are. It’s not unusual for them to get outgained on offense, but they usually win the turnover battle, and they rarely seem to make game-changing mistakes. That’s why the loss against Colorado was so unusual. It’s usually the Cougars who get that one or two big plays that turn the game around; they don’t have the talent to be competitive if they give any gifts to the other team.
Arizona seems to be improving every game. Part of that may be that teams don’t always take the Wildcats seriously, but I think that more of it is that they are executing better and avoiding mistakes. If they can play the same game they played against Wisconsin, spreading the ball around and avoiding turnovers, I think they’ll win.
On offense, the Cougars are way too dependent on Jason Hill. Even in the Idaho game, where they spread the ball around, he accounted for about half of their receiving yards. Do they have another deep threat? I’m looking through the stats, and it doesn’t look like it. Swogger looked good against Idaho, but that doesn’t say anything. The same thing goes for their running game. Until they can show they can run against a team with a pulse, no one’s going to bother respecting their ground attack, and will focus on stopping Swogger and Hill. If Swogger has to miss the game or is seriously affected by his injury from the Idaho game, Washington State may really struggle. Adding to their problems is the fact that against a much better Utah offense, with a much better quarterback, the Wildcat defense wasn’t bad. Against Wisconsin, who isn’t quite as good as Utah but still more explosive than the Cougars have looked, the Wildcats really took a step up and held them right until the fourth quarter.
If Arizona can avoid turning the ball over, I think they’ll be able to move the ball effectively and get themselves points. Heavner has been very good at spreading the ball around, though they’ll have to find a deep threat to keep the Cougar defense honest; otherwise, they’ll find themselves outnumbered in the passing game and Heavner will end up having to be very sharp to avoid interceptions. The Washington State defense has been playing okay this year; they were good for turnovers and bad for yards against New Mexico, and just the opposite against Colorado. We’ll see what happens here.
I don’t know what will happen when the Wildcats have the ball, but I think that it will be the key to the game. Can they move the ball without turning it over? I think they Cougars will put together a drive or two on offense, but not much more. If they can force turnovers, they can take advantage and put on extra points. If not, I think Arizona will overwhelm them with the yards they will gain, especially through the air. It’s just a guess, but I think that Washington State will only force one or two turnovers, enough to grab a few extra points, but not enough to overcome what Arizona is going to do.
@ Arizona 23, Washington State 20