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TV Take: Washington State doesn’t do anything right in 44-6 meltdown loss to Arizona

By Vince Grippi The Spokesman-Review

If you wondered how Washington State would respond to its first loss of the year, the first half against Arizona on Saturday was probably not the answer you wanted. Nor was the rest of the game. Unless you support the Wildcats.

The Cougar faithful? They sat stunned as 7.5-point undergdog Arizona rolled to a 14-point halftime lead – whether they were at Gesa Field or at home, watching Ted Robinson and Yogi Roth on the Pac-12 Networks.

It was a total meltdown. Coaching mistakes. Too many missed tackles to count. Constant offensive line breakdowns. Penalties. Trick plays gone wrong. Quite possibly the worst half in the short Jake Dickert coaching tenure.

“This is going to be a regroup halftime, isn’t it?” Robinson asked Roth with 4 minutes on the first-half clock. “They’re going to need the 20 minutes of halftime.”

It didn’t help. The Wildcats continued to dominate, finishing off the Cougars with a more-than-7-minute, third-quarter possession Robinson termed, correctly, “a spirit-crushing drive.” The final score was 44-6 in a game that finished in a near-empty stadium.

What they saw

• Roth and Robinson are the Pac-12 Networks’ A Team, the best the network can offer in the final year of its existence.

They came into this one, the Cougars’ first since their disappointing Rose Bowl performance, focusing on Washington State’s need to be aggressive.

“The way they want to forget that game,” Roth said, “is to attack in this one.”

The Cougars (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) did on the game’s first possession and covered 75 yards in 11 dominating plays.

Then Dickert may have become a little too aggressive.

It showed with a 2-point conversion attempt that failed miserably. It continued on the other side of the ball, as, on Arizona’s third play, the defense aggressively bit on the flow to the left and redshirt freshman quarterback Noah Fifita found Jonah Coleman alone on the right side for a 69-yard completion. The Wildcats (4-3, 2-2) scored on the next play.

The overaggression continued on WSU next possession. On a fourth-and-1 from WSU’s 34, Dickert gave the offense a green light. Arizona put up a stop sign. Jaylen Jenkins was stuffed, and the stop led to three more UA points.

A trick play interception – Arizona’s first of the season – followed and it preceded a 40-yard touchdown run. By halftime, with Cameron Ward again under near-constant pressure, the Wildcats led 20-6.

“Raise your hand if you saw this one coming,” Robinson said after the third-quarter drive that sealed the Cougars’ fate.

• This was supposed to be a homecoming for Jayden de Laura. After a year in Pullman, he had left for warmer climes. Last season in Tucson, he threw four interceptions and Washington State won. In this one, he didn’t play, and Arizona romped.

There was a correlation. Since de Laura was injured, the Wildcats have been more than competitive in losses to Washington and USC, both ranked in the top 10. A big part of it was the play of Fifita.

Since relieving de Laura in a one-point win over Stanford, Fifita has been efficient and scintillating, only one of which de Laura can claim, what with five interceptions in 3½ games this season.

Fifita was both in this one, hitting 34 of 43 passes for 342 yards, including a few third-down completions that had a bit of an early-season-Ward look to them. And, most important, no interceptions.

The Wildcats came in, as Robinson pointed out, among the bottom end of the conference in converting third downs. Against the Cougars, that changed. They were successful 10 of 17 times.

Ward’s offense came in atop the conference list at 60%. Not Saturday night. They were 4 for 11 and 0 for 3 on fourth, including the game-clinching fourth-quarter miss from their 15. One handoff later it was 37-6.

What we saw

• Despite the lopsided score, we were treated to quite a few reactions of Brennan Jackson’s mother, Amy.

It’s a feature the Network has added, which includes putting a microphone on a selected mom, in this case Jackson. The first segment resulting from that wasn’t all that riveting. But the worry, when Jackson had to be helped off the field in the second half, and the smiles, when, after returning, he came up with the Cougars’ first (and only) sack, certainly were. The latter included her reaction, which included what only could be described as a scream of joy. A loud scream of joy.

• For some reason, the Pac-12 Networks often miss penalty announcements. It’s been visible this season, even if the referee isn’t always.

Early on, there was a penalty on a kickoff against WSU that was left to Robinson to describe. Not long after, the camera hit Matt Richards, but only after he was halfway through another explanation. Watch other games on other networks and, if a flag is thrown, viewers hear, and see, the call.