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Cat Tracks: Arizona overcomes early deficit, ultimately falls to Washington State

If Mike Leach is on the opposite sideline, the opposition’s offensive gameplan is never exactly shrouded in mystery. And it wasn’t Saturday, when the coach was at the helm of Washington State’s offensive ambush at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.

“Pass, pass, pass,” was the Cougars’ mantra, as always, when they lined up against the Arizona Wildcats, who were reeling from a 31-26 loss to UCLA the previous Saturday. Washington State, meanwhile, made the most of their 17 days of preparation Saturday, having last taken the field on Halloween, when they were handedly defeated by Arizona State.

Quarterback Connor Halliday got the Cougars’ air attack off to a blazing fast start, going up 10-0 in the first quarter. Halliday, the nation’s sixth-leading passer as play began Saturday, ultimately threw 53 passes, completing 39 for 319 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Ka’Deem Carey, though, broke through late in the opening quarter for the Wildcats, getting his team on the board with a 30-yard touchdown run. Eight minutes later, about halfway through the second quarter, Carey found the end zone again, this time after catching a seven-yard pass from Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker, who ultimately threw for 200 yards on the day. The score put the Wildcats up for the first and only time of the afternoon, 14-10.

Coach Leach made no offensive-oriented tweaks at halftime, as Halliday and the Cougars unsurprisingly came out slinging the ball again in the second half. Following an Arizona three and out, Halliday found River Cracraft for a 23-yard touchdown pass to retake the lead, 17-14.

Wildcats kicker Jake Smith would end up splitting the uprights before quarter’s end, but that would be the final time coach Rich Rodriguez’s team could alter the Arizona Stadium scoreboard Saturday, despite showing a decent two-minute drill as the clock ticked down to zero, ultimately having a shot from the Washington State 13 to tie the game on Denker’s final pass, which couldn’t be reeled in by his target.

The Good:

Rodriguez’s team found a way to stay on task, despite early dominance from the Cougars. Midway through the second quarter, in fact, it looked as if the home team had full control of the game and would blow right past Washington State on the backs of stars Denker and Carey. This, despite having to face a tough UCLA team last week while Washington State hadn’t taken the field this month.

The Bad:

Denker’s pair of fumbles cost the Wildcats greatly, as did the team’s lack of offensive adjustment in the second half. The Cougars found a way to contain Carey down the stretch and the lack of improvisation on part of Rodriguez and his staff proved dreadful.

Given their home field advantage, the Wildcats’ inability to find the end zone and send the game into overtime on their final drive, which seemed promising, was an ugly sight.

Up Next:

Following back-to-back conference losses, making them 3-4 in the Pac-12, Arizona now has to prepare for Oregon, who makes their way to Tucson next Saturday for a kickoff time that is to be decided.