Cougs gearing up for pass attack

Washington State's young defense will have to stay close to Arizona's big receiver Juron Criner. (Wily Low / Associated Press)
Washington State's young defense will have to stay close to Arizona's big receiver Juron Criner. (Wily Low / Associated Press)

Arizona brings Pac-10’s best passing offense

PULLMAN – There are a lot of adjectives used over the years to describe a school’s passing game.

Prolific, potent, powerful and productive come to mind – and those are just the ones that are brought to you by the letter P.

But Washington State University football coach Paul Wulff used an unusual adjective this week to describe Arizona’s passing game, the Pac-10’s most prolific.

Arizona has “probably the most mature passing attack in the conference,” Wulff said, bringing to mind Betty White’s Snickers candy bar commercial.

But geriatric wasn’t what Wulff meant. Full-grown is closer to the truth.

Spearheaded by junior quarterback Nick Foles, who leads the Pac-10 in passing accuracy at 74.9 percent, and powered by junior receiver Juron Criner, who uses his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame to overpower smaller defensive backs, the Wildcats’ attack has led them to a 4-1 record (1-1 in Pac-10 play) and 17th in the Associated Press poll.

The Wildcats throw for 328.6 yards a game, best in the Pac-10 and fifth in the nation.

The Cougars will counter with a defense hit recently by injuries but already ranked 120th – last – nationally in total defense (giving up 517.5 yards per game) and 108th against the pass (262.8 yards per game).

Can they stay with Arizona’s mixture of slant patterns, wide-receiver screens and quick running plays?

“Our issue, and it got a little exposed this last week (vs. Oregon), we just weren’t very physical at the point of attack,” Wulff said, talking about WSU’s problems with the Ducks’ quick throws to wide receivers. “We’ve got to be more aggressive and more physical and get off the blocks.

“That’s where youth comes into play. How we handle that (Saturday) is critical.”

WSU will probably start two sophomores and two freshmen in its secondary and possibly two freshmen at linebacker. When the Cougars go to a nickel package, another freshman will come off the bench. Not actually the definition of mature.

And none are exactly the size of Criner, who leads the Pac-10 in receptions per game (6.2) and receiving yards per game (106.2)

“Juron Criner might be the best receiver in this league,” Wulff said. “He’s a heck of a player, a big, big physical guy. We’re going to have our hands full, clearly, just with him and not to mention all their other veteran receivers.”

And the Arizona running game. Though UA throws nearly 60 percent of the time, it’s averaging 5.2 yards a carry when Foles’ sacks are taken out of the picture.

Nic Grigsby (274 yards, 5.5 yards per carry), Keola Antolin (126, 5.0) and Greg Nwoko (132, 6.3) carry most of the load for the Wildcats.

“We can’t just worry about the pass,” Wulff said, “they are so explosive out of the backfield. It’s the Grigsby kid, or Keola Antolin, those two kids we’ve known for a long time, they’re a senior and a junior, they run extremely well, fast.

“The key is being able to contain the big play. Hopefully we can.”

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