WSU eyes bowl eligibility against increasingly feisty Arizona

NCAA Football

Washington State needs one victory to become bowl eligible, and takes its first crack at it Friday night against visiting Arizona in Pullman, Wash.

The Cougars (5-5, 4-3 Pac-12) are coming off a 38-24 loss at No. 3 Oregon, which ended a four-game conference winning streak. After hosting the Wildcats (1-9, 1-6), Washington State will close the regular season at Washington in the Apple Cup rivalry.

WSU is 1-2, including a 21-19 home loss to BYU, since Nick Rolovich and four assistants were fired for not complying with a mandate that all state employees in Washington be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“At the end of the day we’re getting better,” said Jake Dickert, who was elevated from defensive coordinator to acting head coach. “We’re still fighting. We’re getting to a point where I’m proud of this team and what we can still do. There’s a lot of things on the table for us and we’re going to keep fighting for these seniors.”

Quarterback Jayden de Laura leads the Cougars’ run-and-shoot offense, having completed 180 of 287 passes for 2,247 yards, with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Running back Max Borghi is also a threat, with 122 carries for 612 yards and eight touchdowns.

Arizona, which snapped a 20-game losing streak with a 10-3 win over much-pleated Cal on Nov. 6, has been competitive in all but one Pac-12 game this season — a 34-0 loss at Colorado. Otherwise, the Wildcats were within one score in the fourth quarter against Oregon, UCLA, Washington, USC, and Utah.

“That was the most upset I’ve seen our locker room in a while,” Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said after Saturday’s 38-29 home loss to Utah. “I think it was because they just feel like we’re there now.”

The nation’s worst turnover ratio — minus 1.4 per game — is one factor holding back the Wildcats.

Will Plummer, the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the roster, played his best game against the Utes, Fisch said. Plummer, who was third string earlier this season, did not throw an interception and contributed a 43-yard scoring run.

“He never got sloppy with the ball,” Fisch said.

For the season, Plummer has been picked off seven times in 187 attempts while throwing for three touchdowns. Arizona will show defenses a different look by having running back Michael Wiley and receiver Jamarye Joiner take direct snaps. Joiner, a former high school quarterback, is 4 for 9 passing with two TDs.

This is the teams’ first meeting since Nov. 17, 2018, when Washington State routed Arizona 69-28 in Pullman. In fact, the Cougars have scored 69 points in each of the past two meetings in Pullman, both of those when Mike Leach was their head coach.

–Field Level Media

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