Slow starts have bedeviled No. 25 Washington State this season, and the Cougars are seeking to avoid that Saturday against downtrodden Arizona.
Washington State fell behind 24-6 at halftime at Oregon State last weekend before rallying for a 35-31 win that lifted them into the Top 25 for the first time since last year.
Slow starts were a big factor during the Cougars’ two losses this year, to FCS Eastern Washington and at No. 24 Boise State.
“We’ve got to get off to a fast start,” quarterback Luke Falk insisted this week.
“We definitely don’t want to come out tight,” receiver Robert Lewis said. “We’ve just got to come out on fire.”
Washington State (6-2, 5-0 Pac-12) has won six in a row and along with No. 4 Washington remained the only team with an undefeated Pac-12 record.
The Cougars are more than two-touchdown favorites over Arizona (2-6, 0-5) which has lost five games in a row.
Linebacker Isaac Dotson said the slow start at Oregon State was the result of a couple of missed assignments, which he called “little things.”
“It looked a lot worse than it was,” Dotson said. “We got those fixed.”
Meanwhile, struggling Arizona has played both Brandon Dawkins and Anu Solomon at quarterback, and coach Rich Rodriguez has declined to say who will start on Saturday.
“We’re evaluating them throughout practice,” Rodriguez said. “I may make a decision five minutes before kickoff, or maybe two days before.”
A loss would virtually eliminate the Wildcats from playing in a bowl game this season.
“If we want to go to a bowl, we have to win out,” Rodriguez said. “But I don’t want to increase pressure.”
One athlete who is playing well for Arizona is sophomore safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, who leads the team with 51 tackles and has two interceptions. He played last year as a freshman.
“We knew he’d have a good year,” Rodriguez said. “He’s bigger and stronger. His future is even better.”
Rodriguez said Washington State is playing with a lot of confidence, and he was asked how to instill that in the Wildcats.
“It comes from winning,” Rodriguez said.
Here are some things to watch:
FALK’S FUTURE: Published reports earlier this week indicated Falk had decided to forego his senior year and declare for the NFL after this season. Falk denied that was the case and said speculation about his future is “noise” that must be blocked out. “I’m really focused on preparing for Arizona right now,” Falk said. “I don’t want to answer any more questions about that.”
STOPPING THE RUN: Washington State has the Pac-12’s No. 1 rushing defense, holding opponents to an average of 113.9 yards per game.
BOWL ELIGIBLE: Leach was asked about the Cougars becoming bowl eligible for the second consecutive season with the win over Oregon State. “We’re mostly interested in winning this next game,” he said.
MARKS MAN: Washington State receiver Gabe Marks needs 12 catches to become the leading receiver in Pac-12 history with 295 career receptions. Nelson Spruce of Colorado currently holds the record of 294. “He always wants the ball,” Leach said of Marks. “We need him to catch a bunch more.”
PASSING FANCY: Arizona’s quarterbacks combined to complete just 5 of 18 passes in last weekend’s loss to Stanford. Rodriguez came to their defense this week. “That’s the hardest position to play in sports, period,” he said. “Sometimes it’s comical when people are overly critical of any quarterback play when they’ve never coached it or ever played it.”