The Arizona Wildcats improved to 6-1 on the season after their 59-37 win over the Washington State Cougars in Pullman on Saturday afternoon making them bowl eligible for the third consecutive season under Rich Rodriguez. Here are five things we learned from the win.
Blazing Start: Moving the ball on offense has not been a problem for the Wildcats in 2014, however finishing those drives with touchdowns has been. In the close wins and in their only loss, the Wildcats found themselves down early like with Cal and USC because of either settling for field goals or not finishing drives. Also saw themselves keep games closer against Oregon, UTSA and Nevada because of the field goals over touchdowns. Finally this week against Pullman, Anu Solomon and company finished their drives with touchdowns for the most part and were relentless, breaking out to a 31-0 first half lead. 24 of those 31 came in the first quarter which is the highest-scoring first quarter for the Wildcats since 24 against Washington State on Nov. 7, 2009, in Tucson. Under Rich Rod, the Wildcats are 14-4 when they score first and 4-1 this season. The 59 points in the end are the most in a conference road game for the program since the 59 the scored against these same Cougars at Martin Stadium in a 59-28 win back on Nov. 8, 2008.
“It’s very beneficial,” said Solomon about the fast start. “It is something that Coach Rodriguez wants us to do, especially with his offense. We’ve been lacking a fast start the last few games and thank God we started fast this week.”
Putting the Special in Special Teams: Former Chaparral star Davonte Neal had his big breakout moment as a Wildcat in Pullman taking a punt return 81 yards for a score as part of that 24 point opening quarter for the Wildcats. It was the first Wildcat to return a punt for a touchdown since Richard Morrison did so against Washington back in October of 2012 and was the first Arizona has had in a road game since Wildcat-great Bobby Wade did so in Washington in November of 2000. Something about those Washington schools I guess. Later in the game, wide receiver Cayleb Jones snatched an on-side kick out of the air and returned it for a touchdown. The last time Arizona was able achieve both a returned punt and kickoff for a touchdown in the same game, just so happened to be against these same Washington State Cougars on Nov. 7, 2009 when Travis Cobb (kickoff) and Bug Wright (punt) together achieved the same feat.
“Being on the road, I thought our guys handled everything really maturely and were focused on the sidelines,” said Rodriguez. “We got contributions from all three phases which was nice.”
Bouncing back: That last time was saw Arizona was at the end of that crushing home loss to USC, their first loss of the season. If there was one thing we know to be true about this year’s team, they are truly battle tested and do not hide when adversity strikes. It has been seen this season in their gritty win over UTSA, the amazing comeback against Cal and now coming off that crushing loss to USC, they make a statement out of the gates as mentioned putting up 31 unanswered points to start the game. And speaking of bouncing back, Arizona kicker Casey Skowron in his first appearance since missing the field goal in the closing seconds of the USC game and receiving obnoxious messages on social media as a result, nailed his first and only field goal from 31 yards out and converted all eight of his extra points.
Relentless: Linebacker Scooby Wright continued what has been an absolutely fantastic season. He was all over the place yet again and was a big part of the success of the Arizona defense that held the Cougars scoreless until early in the second quarter while the offense was pouring it on. How’s this for a stat line: eight total tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. On Sunday morning, he was named Walter Camp Football Foundation FBS National Defensive Player of the Week. A lot was made of the defense being able to slow the air attack that is Connor Halliday and Washington State. But Arizona’s defense managed to hold the quarterback to 6-of-13 passing for 33 yards on the first four drives of the game, which resulted in three punts and a turnover on downs. It should also be noted that former Salpointe star Cameron Denson snatched his first career interception in the first half.
“I think a lot of our defensive players just had a bad taste in our mouth and we just had to bounce back and prove that we could play the passing game,” said Wright after the game.
Road Warriors: This is a big stretch for Arizona as they stay atop the conference standings with just one loss. The win over Washington State was the first of two consecutive road tests to close out the month of October and start November. They reached their first goal this week, up next a trip against a UCLA team that has had their problems this season, but is still talent-wise, on the the best teams the Pac-12 has to offer. The last time Arizona visited the Rose Bowl, UCLA pounced on them much like the Wildcats did Saturday against the Cougars. It ended up being a 66-10 loss a week after knocking off the tenth ranked USC Trojans in Tucson. It will be a 7:30 kick-off in Pasadena next week.