Cougars look for revenge against Arizona

WSU will host Wildcats on Saturday night at Martin Stadium, hoping to extend home winning streak to 13



Redshirt junior wide receiver Easop Winston Jr. attempts to shed a tackle in the game against California on Nov. 3 in Martin Stadium.

JOHN SPELLMAN, Evergreen reporter

For No. 8 WSU football, the saying “there’s no place like home” is especially true. The Cougars are coming into the weekend on a 12-game winning streak at home and look to extend it to 13 as they host University of Arizona on Saturday.

The Cougars (9-1) also look to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive when they host the Wildcats (5-5) in their penultimate game of the regular season.

WSU is looking to get its revenge against Arizona after last season, in which the Wildcats defeated the Cougar in Tuscon, Arizona. This ended up proving costly for the Cougars as it was a crushing blow to their Pac-12 North hopes.

“We need to do our jobs,” WSU junior safety Jalen Thompson said. “Last year I felt like [then-sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate] had a lot of explosive plays against us, and if we can just clean that up and makes some tackles I think we will be fine.”

Despite last year’s result, WSU looks to continue its successful season against the Wildcats as the Cougars have the best record in the Pac-12 with the end of the regular season in sight. One key player for the team who was not part of last year’s game is quarterback Gardner Minshew II.

After being an under-the-radar transfer from East Carolina University to Pullman, Minshew caught the national spotlight with his phenomenal play as quarterback this season — and, of course, his Mississippi mustache.

Currently, Minshew leads the nation in passing yards with 3,852, almost 500 yards more than the next quarterback. He also leads the country in average yards per game with almost 390. Many experts are looking at him as a Heisman Trophy hopeful.

One key aspect of Minshew’s rise to the national spotlight is the help he has received in Head Coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. He has been the beneficiary of the potent running back duo of redshirt junior James Williams and freshman Max Borghi. Both have combined for 22 touchdowns on the season so far, with Williams averaging about 94 yards from scrimmage per game.

The Cougars have a deep bench of wide receivers. They are led by junior Dezmon Patmon, redshirt sophomore Easop Winston Jr. and sophomores Tay Martin and Jamire Calvin, with each averaging about 72, 56, 51 and 43 receiving yards per game, respectively.

However, they are going up against a tough Arizona team led by Head Coach Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin is spending his first year as a head coach in Tucson after being a head coach at Texas A&M. In fact, Sumlin was once a graduate assistant coach at WSU.

They are led on offense by Tate, who is a mobile quarterback with the ability to throw the ball well and elude pressure in the pocket to run for a lot of yards. In fact, he is the only University of Arizona player to throw for at least five touchdowns in multiple games.

The Cougar defense will also have to keep its eye on Arizona redshirt sophomore running back JJ Taylor, who is fourth in the nation with 1,221 rushing yards and leads the nation in all-purpose yards per game with 178.

In addition, WSU will have to be aware of Arizona’s defensive combination of sophomore linebackers Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II. They lead the Wildcats with 174 combined tackles, making them the third-leading tackling duo in the Pac-12.

“They are fast, they seem to run pretty well,” Leach said. “Defensively, it seems receivers don’t get a lot of separation on them and then they are gritty and tough up front.”

The Wildcats entered the season as a popular pick to win the Pac-12 South, with Tate being picked by a few experts as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. Unfortunately for them, with two disappointing losses to Brigham Young University and University of Houston to start the season, it made people reconsider Arizona’s success rate.

However, Arizona comes into Saturday’s game as one of the hottest teams in the Pac-12, winning its last two matchups over University of Oregon and University of Colorado and taking its bye last week.

The Wildcats lead the all-time series against the Cougars with a record of 27-16. However, the last time these two teams met in Pullman, WSU took the victory 69-7.

Even though WSU has a big game against Arizona this Saturday, it is only natural people look ahead to the Apple Cup. However, Leach does not want his team to focus on anything beside this weekend’s game against Arizona.

“We just need to focus on Arizona,” Leach said. “If we don’t, we won’t play well against Arizona. I mean I think we will and it’s necessary. This week the only game we play is Arizona, and there is nothing more important than Arizona right now.”

Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Martin Stadium. The game will be televised live on ESPN.