Riding winning streak, Arizona Wildcats head to Washington State

Nov 16, 2018, 8:16 AM

AP Photos...

AP Photos

On Oct. 20, Arizona dropped a game on the road to middling UCLA. Then, it seemed there was no way the Wildcats could salvage their first season under Kevin Sumlin.

Fast forward a few weeks and that’s no longer the case. Arizona earned its second-consecutive win in Week 10 when the Wildcats outlasted Colorado in a shootout. Arizona even has a chance to win the Pac-12 South if it wins its last two games and Utah falls to Colorado.

Now, Arizona is 5-5 with games against Washington State and Arizona State left on the schedule. The Wildcats first head to Pullman for a road test against the eighth-ranked Cougars.

Win, and Arizona clinches bowl eligibility. Lose, and the Wildcats’ bowl chances rest on the Territorial Cup.

Essential Info

What: Arizona vs. Washington State

When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday


Key Storylines

Can Khalil Tate build off last game?

The Khalil Tate that showed up in the Wildcats’ last two games was a totally different player than he’d been earlier in the season. In the wins over Oregon and Colorado, the junior quarterback threw for a combined 539 yards and eight touchdowns, completing 65 percent of his passes.

Tate previously dealt with a lingering ankle injury that significantly minimized his performance. In five of his first seven games, Tate completed less than 55 percent of his passes, but after sitting out the UCLA game with injury, he’s looked like the star he was in 2017.

Another aspect of Tate’s game that hasn’t been the same this year is his ability to run. After rushing for more than 1,400 yards a year ago, Tate has only run for 153 yards this season. Though he only rushed for 15 yards against the Buffaloes, Tate did break out his longest run of the season (25 yards).

In the midst of his recent turnaround, Tate could pose a threat to the Washington State defense. Last year, Tate combined for 421 yards of offense and four total touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 58-37 win over the Cougars.

Will Arizona limit Gardner Minshew?

Throughout the season, Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew has been a machine. The “Mighty Mustache” leads the FBS in passing by almost 500 yards, and he’s sixth in the nation in passing touchdowns with 29.

Arizona’s secondary, in contrast, hasn’t been too hot. Allowing 248.7 passing yards per game, Arizona is ninth in the Pac-12 in pass defense.

Minshew has thrown for more than 300 yards in every game this season, so it’s highly unlikely he doesn’t put up big numbers against Arizona.

That said, if Arizona’s front can put enough pressure on him, they may be able to force some questionable throws.

“You see his maturity and his experience,” Sumlin said. “I think he has gotten more and more confident throughout the year as he has played.”

Can the Wildcats’ O-line protect Tate?

Sure, Tate will need to play well for Arizona to have a chance. But he won’t be able to do much if his offensive line can’t block.

Over the course of the season, the Wildcats’ blockers have slowly improved, but this week, the line faces a stingy unit. The Cougars lead the Pac-12 in sacks with 30.

It’s easy to blame Tate if things start going south, but the young Arizona offensive line will need to show out against one of the best pass rushes its faced this season.


Will Colin Schooler continue his dominance?

For a defense that’s been up and down this year, Arizona linebacker Colin Schooler has been a standout. Schooler leads the Pac-12 and is second in the FBS in tackles for loss with 19.0.

Playing against a weapon like Minshew, Schooler will be relied on more than ever. If he’s able to get past the line as he has previously this year, Schooler could force some untimely mistakes from Minshew.

Head Coach Mike Leach

Whether it’s bigfoot, pirates, aliens or weddings, Mike Leach will always produce entertaining soundbytes. But that isn’t the only thing he excels at.

Since taking over at Washington State, Leach has turned the program around with the air raid offense. His late-game philosophies and trick plays are among the best in the Pac-12 and the entire nation.

Washington State running backs

Both of Washington State’s primary backs — James Williams and Max Borghi — have quietly been prolific in the backfield this year. In an offense commanded by Minshew, Williams and Borghi have combined for 15 touchdowns on the ground this year.

Not only has the duo found success reaching the end zone, they’ve also been productive. Williams and Borghi have averaged 4.2 and 5.2 yards per carry this season, respectively.

What makes the duo most dangerous is its ability to thrash opponents when least expected.

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