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Sports >  WSU football

First look: Washington State, hoping to reach bowl eligibility, to honor substantial senior class against one-win Arizona

Nov. 15, 2021 Updated Mon., Nov. 15, 2021 at 7:03 p.m.

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

What is it? Washington State (5-5, 4-3 Pac-12) plays its final home game of the season when it hosts Arizona (1-9, 1-6) for senior night.

Where is it? On the Palouse at Gesa Field.

When is it? Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Friday.

Where can I watch it? Pac-12 Network will carry the broadcast.

Who is favored? The Cougs opened as 15-point favorites, per Sports Illustrated Sportsbook.

How did they fare last week? WSU responded from a 14-point first-quarter deficit and climbed from a 10-point third-quarter hole to trim No. 3 Oregon’s lead to seven points in the fourth period. The Cougars gave the Ducks a scare, but were ultimately overpowered at the line of scrimmage in a 38-24 loss at Autzen Stadium in Eugene. Arizona led in the first half and stayed at No. 24 Utah’s heels throughout a 38-29 loss in Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats blocked a punt in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown that made the score 31-29 with about 10:30 remaining in the game, but the Utes closed the door with a bruising eight-minute scoring drive afterward.

Why WSU will win: The Cougs come into this one expected to handle business, and for good reason. Arizona has struggled mightily in most facets throughout the year. Its only victory came two weeks ago, a 10-3 decision over a Cal team that’d been decimated by a COVID-19 outbreak. That win snapped the Wildcats’ 20-game losing streak. UA is turnover-prone – ranking 119th nationally with 20 giveaways – and will face an opportunistic WSU defense that sits in a tie for fifth in the FBS in takeaways with 22. The Wildcats have given up a Pac-12-worst 28 sacks, rank 11th in the league with 295 total points allowed, and their offense is scoring a conference-low 17.3 points per game. The Cougars have much to play for. They are seeking to qualify for a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season – excluding last season’s four-game campaign – and they’ll be celebrating a substantial senior class Friday that has been tremendously important to this program’s sustained success. WSU put up 69 points in each of its past two meetings with UA on the Palouse.

Why Arizona will win: It’s been a rough year in Tucson under first-year coach Jedd Fisch, but the Wildcats haven’t folded. Six tight games have not gone their way. They pushed Oregon into the fourth quarter and nearly upset USC, BYU and Washington. “They haven’t quit on the season,” WSU interim coach Jake Dickert said. “You can see that easily on the tape.” Arizona’s defensive front has registered an impressive 19 sacks and its pass defense ranks second in the Pac-12 at 193.6 yards per game. Dickert expects UA will play with nothing to lose, and perhaps dig into its playbook. “They’ve thrown like five or six tricks plays per game in the last two games,” he said. “They’re trying to attack you, they’re trying to win games. … Their defense is scrappy and hanging in there. They’ve been in a ton of games. You can see their program is wanting to fight.”

What happened last time: The cross-divisional Pac-12 adversaries have not met since November 2018, when Gardner Minshew and the Cougars put up 55 points in the first half en route to a 69-28 throttling of Arizona in Pullman. WSU is 17-27 all time versus the Wildcats. The Cougs are 4-2 in the series since 2013.

Things to know

1. WSU will honor a large batch of outgoing players Friday. The Cougs’ roster lists 26 players who are either seniors or graduate students. “Just looking at these names, they’re an integral part of what we’ve been doing and how we’ve gotten through this, not only this (coaching) transition but the program we are today is really because of these men,” Dickert said. “They give this program and this team, and WSU and Coug fans, everything they have, and the biggest thing I’d love to see is just that support Friday night be shown.”

2. WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura has taken the lead in the Pac-12 in both passing yards (249.7 per game) and touchdowns (19). He’s completing 62.7% of his passes for a solid average of 7.8 yards per attempt, and been picked nine times. De Laura is coming off a three-turnover game at Oregon, but UA’s defense has collected a Pac-12-worst eight takeaways and has intercepted only four passes against 19 passing TDs surrendered.

3. Arizona’s roster features two familiar names in quarterback Gunner Cruz and fullback Clay Markoff – both of whom transferred out of WSU last offseason. Cruz was the team’s starting quarterback earlier this year before suffering a season-ending thumb injury Oct. 16 in a loss at Colorado. The Wildcats have played five quarterbacks this year and they have combined for just nine TDs against 16 interceptions. Markoff was a fan-favorite reserve Coug over the past couple of years. The Olympia, Washington, native has appeared in each of the Wildcats’ games, on both special teams and as a lead-blocker.

4. With two Friday evening games remaining on their regular-season schedule, the Cougars have shifted their practice times from the early morning to the afternoon “to give our bodies a little more time to rest and recover,” Dickert said.

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