The Cougars lost their second-consecutive road game, this time in a 58-37 loss to Arizona. What happens now?
For the second time in three weeks, Washington State suffered an ugly, mistake-filled road defeat. Here are three initial impressions from the Cougars’ 58-37 defeat to Arizona.
1 – This one was once again a team collapse
Go back to the first offensive drive of the second quarter, when WSU trailed Arizona 10-7. Cougars quarterback Luke Falk zipped a well-placed deep pass to Dezmon Patmon who had beaten his defender at about the 10-yard line.
The pass hit Patmon in the hands, but he dropped the ball. It should have been a touchdown that put WSU up 14-10. Instead, the Cougars tried for a 56-yard field goal that Erik Powell pulled wide left.
Looking back, that might have been WSU’s best chance at controlling the game. Because things devolved thereafter.
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Of course this is not Patmon’s fault. This 58-37 upset loss to Arizona was a team collapse. It wasn’t as ugly as the total shutdown against Cal, but it was rough nonetheless.
The offense made too many mistakes – four turnovers will get you nowhere – the defense gave up too many chunk plays and special teams had a couple of porous coverages on returns.
WSU went into the game ranked No. 7 nationally in total defense. But the Cougars couldn’t contain Arizona elusive running QB Khalil Tate, who had 146 rushing yards and a rushing score on 13 carries.
WSU outgained the Wildcats on offense, putting up 646 yards to Arizona’s 585. But it wasn’t enough. The Cougars are now 7-2 on the season and 4-2 in the Pac-12, and will almost certainly drop out of the top 20 when the new rankings come out on Sunday.
Suddenly, the season looks a lot different than it did on Sept. 30, when the Cougars were 5-0 with an upset win over then-No. 5 USC.
Things could get uglier if the Cougars don’t right the ship fast. Stanford, Utah and UW will not be easy to get by.
2 – Does WSU have a QB controversy?
Falk opened the game 13 of 23 for 93 yards. He had a 1-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Johnson-Mack in the first quarter, but other than that, the offense sputtered, going three-and-out four times and going 1 of 8 on third down conversions.
So with 2:56 left on the clock in the first half, Mike Leach benched Falk for backup quarterback Tyler Hilinski just like he did in the Boise State game.
Falk, mind you, last week became the winningest quarterback in WSU history, grabbing his 25th win against Colorado to surpass Jason Gesser’s 24. He’s a fifth-year senior who might, by the end of the season, own every single Pac-12 passing record. But he was benched against Arizona for the second time this season.
Initially Leach told the Pac-12 Network that he wanted to give Falk a chance to analyze the game from the sideline, but Falk never re-entered the game. Not even when Hilinski’s fourth interception of the night, with 11:09 left in the fourth quarter, was returned 66 yards for a score by Arizona’s Colin Schooler.
Leach stuck with Hilinski, and the sophomore quarterback finished 45 of 61 for 509 passing yards, with four picks, two passing touchdowns, and two rushing scores — all career-highs.
Hilinski clearly has talent, and will likely seamlessly transition into the role of full-time starting QB for WSU next season. He sparked the offense the instant he entered the game, going 7 of 8 for 69 passing yards on his first drive, and punctuating that by scrambling for his first career rushing touchdown on a 6-yard score.
But, Hilinski’s inexperience also showed against Arizona. Three of his four interceptions came off risky throws that the defense read and got in front of.
Hilinski also almost accounted for a fourth turnover when he fumbled toward the end of the third quarter, but James Williams managed to recover, and the Cougars salvaged the drive with a 56-yard Erik Powell field goal.
Still, you can’t argue with Hilinski’s production. He engineered back-to-back offensive drives in the third quarter to give WSU its first lead of the game with 8:06 left. Hilinski connected with Tay Martin for an 8-yard passing touchdown, then scored his second rushing touchdown of the night with a 1-yard scramble.
After Schooler’s pick-six, Hilinski bounced back well and connected with Tay Martin again, this time on a 49-yard catch-and-run that kept it a two-score game – Arizona 51, WSU 37.
But at this point, Hilinski looks raw, and is a high risk/high reward play. He led WSU to a comeback win against Boise State, but his turnovers against Arizona did not help the Cougars’ cause.
Yet, Falk has certainly had a couple of rough games. He followed up his five-interception nightmare against Cal with a pedestrian outing against Colorado, and was ineffective in the first quarter of the Arizona game.
So what happens next?
Stick with the experienced senior who doesn’t generally make big mistakes, but who has been ineffective of late? Or go with the erratic-but-exciting sophomore who always provides a spark?
My sense is that Leach will start Falk next week against Stanford because it’s Senior Night. But he’ll be on a short leash.
3 – Khalil Tate 4, Pac-12 0
Khalil Tate for Pac-12 offensive MVP anyone?
In a season that started with everyone talking about USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, WSU’s Falk and UW’s Jake Browning, Arizona’s Tate is the quarterback who’s been most unstoppable.
Tate has now accounted 1,583 offensive yards and 14 touchdowns in four games.
Initially, it looked as if WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch might have figured out a way to slow down Tate. WSU’s defense Tate bottled up for the first quarter, holding him to 16 rush yards on six rush attempts.
Thereafter, someone shook up that soda bottle and uncapped it, and Tate and the Arizona offense sprayed out and overwhelmed the WSU defense.
The Cougars defense seemed so concerned with trying to contain Tate’s athletic ability that on many occasions they overcommitted at the line of scrimmage.
As a result, they gave up chunk yardage up the middle, on the pass and via running back J.J. Taylor. Taylor scored two rushing touchdown, including a 79-yard breakaway score in the third quarter, tight end Jamie Nunley scored on a 48-yard catch-and-run early, and Tate had an 82-yard run that very nearly resulted in a touchdown — only Jalen Thompson’s last-ditch effort tackle at the 5-yard line kept him out of the end zone.
Tate completed 10 of 17 passes for 275 passing yards and two passing scores, to go with his 146 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.
Tate is now 4-0 as Arizona’s starting QB, and Arizona has played itself into Pac-12 South title contention. The Wildcats are 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Pac-12, with their only loss coming against Utah in the pre-Tate era.