PULLMAN – To get ready for Arizona’s offense, which leads the Pac-12 in scoring average at 41.7 points per game, the Washington State defense is preparing for the entire Wildcats offense, plus a little extra.
Quarterback Anu Solomon may or may not start – he’s rounding back into shape after missing time with a concussion – but it doesn’t really matter. It is likely that both he and backup Jerrard Randall are going to play against the Cougars on Saturday and while Randall may not be the starter, he can run some plays that Solomon can’t.
“There are certain plays that (Randall) runs that (Solomon) doesn’t run,” linebacker Ken Wilson said. “He runs the whole offense, plus some plays specifically for him. The other one is more of a passer but he does have some running ability. He ran against us last year.”
Specifically, Solomon carried the ball eight times for 31 yards against the Cougars a year ago, with his longest run going for 14 yards. But his running ability pales compared to Randall, who is averaging 11.2 yards per carry.
Randall is arguably the most explosive member of UA’s rushing attack, which has seen six different players rip off carries of 31-yards or longer. In his lone start, a tough assignment at Stanford, Randall performed admirably, completing 15 of 28 passes for 178 yards against the Cardinal, while adding another 67 yards on the ground and not throwing an interception.
Solomon led the Wildcats to the Pac-12 championship game as a freshman last season and has thrown 13 touchdown passes without an interception
UA coach Rich Rodriguez bucks conventional wisdom by being willing to play two or more quarterbacks interchangeably.
“I think Jerrard has shown enough that we wouldn’t hesitate to put him in the game at any time and yet we still think that Anu’s a really good quarterback and he can be effective,” Rodriguez said. “So we have two guys that we have confidence in.”
Disrupting the opposing quarterback has been an area of strength for the WSU defense, which ranks No. 4 in the Pac-12 in overall sacks, but it might be better not to test the Wildcats.
Randall has yet to be sacked this season and Solomon has been sacked less than once every 19 drop backs, despite taking four sacks against Colorado. Eight of WSU’s 15 sacks have come from Rush linebackers Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio, four apiece, who each excel at racing past offensive tackles before the offensive linemen can get out of their stances and get set.
Racing into the backfield can take a pass rusher right past a mobile quarterback, while leaving open space for him to run to.
“No matter what you do, (a mobile quarterback) can always can make you wrong,” said outside linebackers coach Roy Manning. “One thing we’ve been harping on is not running past that quarterback. Sometimes those guys beat their guy off the line and the quarterbacks step up right past us. That’s the big focal point that we’ve been trying to hammer these last few weeks.”
The Wildcats QB duo will be tough for WSU to stop, and they are each more effective thanks to excellent rushing support from sophomore running back Nick Wilson, the No. 4 leading rusher in the conference.
And while WSU’s last two opponents, Oregon and Oregon State, each averaged more yards per play than they have over the course of the season during their matchups against the Cougars, WSU has also started to figure out opposing quarterbacks, intercepting at least one pass in every Pac-12 game.
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