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First look: No. 19 Washington State hosts Arizona for homecoming game

Washington State safety Sam Lockett III, left, returns an interception during the second half of a Pac-12 game against Arizona on Saturday at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Here is a first look at No. 19 Washington State’s homecoming game against Arizona on Saturday.

What is it?

Washington State, coming off its first loss of the year in a road setback against UCLA, will host Arizona for homecoming.

Where is it?

Gesa Field at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

When is it?

Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. local time.

Where can I watch it?

Pac-12 Network will broadcast the game.

Who is favored?

As of Monday afternoon, Washington State, 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the Pac-12, was about an 8-point favorite in most sportsbooks.

How did the Cougars fare last week?

Washington State dropped its first game of the season on Saturday, falling 25-17 to UCLA on the road. In that game, WSU quarterback Cameron Ward was under pressure on nearly every drop-back, which had a meaningful effect on his performance. He completed 19 of 39 passes for 197 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions, his first two of the season.

The Cougars’ offensive line could not hold up against the Bruins’ pass rush, one of the best in the country. Left tackle Esa Pole had trouble blocking UCLA edge Laiatu Latu, who piled up seven pressures: one sack, one hit, five hurries. Pole received a pass-rush grade of 0.0 from Pro Football Focus, which dinged him for 10 total pressures.

That colored the rest of the game for the Cougars and Ward, who slogged through his worst outing of the year. After the game, he accepted the entirety of the blame, saying the pass rush had no effect on his outing. WSU head coach Jake Dickert said it was “everything.”

“I think every piece of our offense owned that this morning,” Dickert said on Monday . “I think that was pretty clear to see when we watched the film: Cam and his progressions, yes, I gotta get it from here to here, and I gotta go through that quickly. I gotta stand in there and take some shots.

“Our aim points at the offensive line and being tough and physical enough to finish, and then running the correct routes and being in the right spots at times. So it was multilevel. That’s what I thought after the game, and that’s what the tape really showed on offense.”

On defense, Washington State nickel Kapena Gushiken recorded an 88-yard pick-six, handing the Cougars a one-point lead headed into halftime. Safety Jaden Hicks blocked a field goal and fellow safety Sam Lockett III snared an interception , underscoring how much the Cougars’ secondary has blossomed into a strength of the team.

But that unit could not overcome the sheer number of bad hands it was dealt. Washington State’s offense lost four turnovers (two Ward interceptions, two fumbles) which put its defense in tough field position – and it kept the defense out there for a long time on a hot day in Southern California. The Bruins turned those four turnovers into 16 points.

“The learns are harder off of a loss,” Dickert said. “Sometimes you can take it more personally than you do when you win, but we’ve always been very process-driven around here. So it is about 1-0 and it is about the work every week, regardless of how we feel. It’s standard over feelings. So it’s the standard of the work. Whether you win or lose, it doesn’t matter. You gotta bank it and we gotta work toward a new challenge.”

Scouting Arizona …

With former WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura nursing an injury, Arizona the past two games has turned to redshirt freshman Noah Fifita, who commanded the eyes of the nation by putting up a strong performance in his team’s triple-overtime loss to No. 9 USC on Saturday: 25-for-35 passing, 303 yards, 5 touchdowns and 1 interception.

The Wildcats, 3-3 overall and 1-2 in Pac-12 play, now have something of a quarterback controversy: Is de Laura healthy enough to play? Either way, are they better off starting Fifita?

“I don’t know how you don’t play the young guy,” Dickert said of Fifita. “I mean, this guy has been as efficient and effective as anybody in the country the last two weeks, I mean, he is operating the offense at a really, really high level. They’re similar, yet different. Both can really throw the ball.

“(De Laura) is gonna to have more off-script plays and do a little bit different things like Cam does, where (Fifita) really operates in the framework of the offense and can really run, but takes off in normal escape patterns, not like what you see Cam do and running around, different things. So I think they’re both very talented. They both can really throw the ball, and they’re both operating at high levels. So prepare for both of them, but you don’t see a drop-off at all with the young kid in there.”

Arizona, which opened conference play by beating Stanford before falling to No. 7 Washington and No. 9 USC in back-to-back weeks, may be a better team than its 3-3 record suggests. In Saturday’s loss, the Wildcats opened a 17-0 lead before the Trojans rallied and, after botching a potential game-winning field goal in regulation, earned the win on a 2-point try in the third overtime.

USC scored on its first OT possession, but when Arizona took over, Fifita found receiver Jacob Cowing for a touchdown pass. With a 2-point conversion, the Wildcats could have won the game, but they opted to kick the extra point and head to double overtime.

“I trust Coach Fisch,” Fifita said after the game. “I told him going into the last overtime that whatever he calls, I trust him. I don’t doubt him. We wouldn’t be here without him. He called a great game. There were plays I didn’t execute on my part that would have changed the outcome, but I’m still learning and I trust him.”

Two other stars have emerged on Arizona’s offense: running back Jonah Coleman and receiver Tetairoa McMillan. In the Wildcats’ loss to the Trojans, Coleman logged 22 carries for 143 yards. McMillan caught six passes for 138 yards. That’s all in addition to the sterling play of Arizona’s offensive line, which is ranked as PFF’s second-best pass-blocking team in the country, with a grade of 90.9.

What happened last time?

Last season, Washington State traveled to Tucson and took down Arizona in a 31-20 victory. The Cougars intercepted de Laura four times, parlaying those turnovers into 10 points, which was enough to withstand Arizona’s 10-0 fourth quarter.

In that game, WSU gashed UA for 161 rushing yards, including 59 from Ward, 56 from Nakia Watson and 37 from Jaylen Jenkins.