Gabe Marks and the Cougars look to stay undefeated in the Pac-12 when they host the Wildcats
Washington State is in a position in the Pac-12 that it hasn't enjoyed in a decade. The No. 25 Cougars (6-2, 5-0 Pac-12) are in serious contention for a division title and their first-ever berth to the Pac-12 Championship Game. They have won five straight to open Pac-12 play for the first time since 2003 and can go to 6-0 for the first time since '02 with a win over Arizona.
Arizona faces desperate circumstances. Rich Rodriguez' Wildcats (2-6, 0-5 Pac-12) have gone from Pac-12 South champion to the division cellar in the span of two seasons. They are in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time since 2011, the final season under former head coach Mike Stoops.
Arizona leads the all-time series 26-15, but Washington State owns the most recent victory after knocking off the Wildcats 45-42 in Tucson last season. The Cougars are looking for their first home win over Arizona since 2003 and their first back-to-back victories over the Wildcats since 2003-04.
Arizona at Washington State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 5 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Washington State -17
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Arizona solve its passing game woes?
Arizona's offense has done a disappearing act over the past two weeks. The Wildcats have not had success stopping other teams from churning out yards and points at will this season. But now Arizona is having a tough time moving the ball enough to keep up.
The Wildcats are coming off their worst offensive performance of 2016. In a 34-10 loss to Stanford, Arizona generated season lows in points, total yards (286), yards per play (4.5) and first downs (15). Brandon Dawkins looked particularly out-of-sync in the passing game, throwing for 116 yards on 5-of-15 passing. Anu Solomon and Khalil Tate fared no better, going a combined 0-of-5 during their stints running the offense.
Arizona's lack of a consistent passing game has caused widespread problems for the entire offense. The Wildcats are generating just 198.6 passing yards per game. For that reason, they have fallen to ninth in the Pac-12 in total offense (415.1 ypg) and 11th in scoring offense (24.1 ppg). With a porous offensive line in front of them, it's doubtful Arizona's quarterbacks will be able to boost those numbers any time in the near future.
2. Can Washington State eliminate slow starts?
One persistent problem for Washington State this season has been an early lack of production on offense in the first half. The Cougars have been outscored 52-38 in the first quarter this season. They have been held scoreless in the first 15 minutes in each of their last two games and had to rally from double-digit deficits both times.
Arizona State sprung out to a 14-3 lead before Washington State rattled off 28 unanswered points to claim a 37-32 victory. The Cougars fell into a quick 21-0 hole against Oregon State and needed 22 unanswered third-quarter points to rally for a 35-31 victory over the Beavers last week.
Washington State still trailed Oregon State by three points early in the fourth quarter before Luke Falk led the Cougars on an 80-yard scoring drive midway through the quarter. Falk capped the drive with a short touchdown pass to Robert Lewis for the go-ahead score.
3. Records watch
Washington State could see some new school records for passing and receiving set this month. Luke Falk and Gabe Marks both look to take a couple of more steps forward in their efforts to rewrite the school record book.
Falk needs just two more games with 300 or more passing yards to overtake Connor Halliday's record of 22 300-yard games. Right now, Falk, is the FBS career leader among active quarterbacks in passing yards per game (359.7). The junior also needs to just two more TD passes to pass Alex Brink for second in career TD passes and 1,563 yards to eclipse Brink for second place in career passing yards. Halliday is the record holder in both categories with 11,304 yards and 90 touchdowns.
Marks already owns school records for career receptions (283) and receiving touchdowns (33). He needs just 95 yards on Saturday to also claim the career receiving yards record. Additionally, Marks needs 12 receptions to break Nelson Spruce's Pac-12 career record of 294. He is fourth among all active FBS receivers in career receptions (275) and second in career touchdowns (33).
This game is a huge mismatch on both sides of the ball for Arizona. The Wildcats rank outside the top 100 nationally in several key offensive and defensive categories. Washington State boasts the Pac-12's top passing offense and one of the league's better scoring offenses. The Cougars should have no trouble picking apart Arizona and handing the Wildcats their sixth consecutive loss.
Prediction: Washington State 38, Arizona 24
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.