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November 16, 2013

Arizona ready for early kick against Wazzu

Two of the better offensive minds in the Pac-12 Conference will meet for the first time since joining the league as head coaches last season.

Rich Rodriguez and Arizona will look to get back in the win column Saturday afternoon against Mike Leach and Washington State. Kickoff at Arizona Stadium is scheduled for noon.

But the Wildcats (6-3, 3-3 Pac-12) are coming off a 31-26 loss to UCLA that was anything but an offensive clinic from Rodriguez's group.

UA failed twice - including a rare fumble by the nation's second-leading rusher Ka'Deem Carey - and settled for a field goal inside the red zone.

"There were a couple times that we didn't execute or gave up opportunities," Rodriguez said. "And I think they also understand what's at stake in the next few weeks, starting with this game."

But Rodriguez said the focus has been "pretty good" in the week of practice and does not see a hangover effect looming. His players agreed.

"Obviously, (the loss) hurts a little more because we felt like we could've won the game," quarterback B.J. Denker said. "But a loss is a loss. They all hurt the same.

"If we would've lost by 100 points, I feel like we'd still come out hungry and look for a win against Washington State."

The Cougars (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12), however, haven't exactly lit up the scoreboard this season. Although quarterback Connor Halliday ranks sixth in the country with 3,098 passing yards, he has 20 touchdowns to go with 18 interceptions.

The running game also has been nonexistent, with 524 of Wazzu's 680 plays this season through the air.

But Arizona's pass defense has been susceptible of allowing big gains, particularly early in drives. The Wildcats have allowed a passing touchdown on the first play of a drive four times, including a 66-yarder on UCLA's first play from scrimmage last week.

"And, offensively, we're not getting a lot of the explosive plays ourselves," Rodriguez said.

One of the team's bigger home-run play threats is listed as questionable, as well. Junior receiver Garic Wharton, who has not caught a ball in the last two games, is dealing with a hip flexor injury.

But true freshman Nate Phillips has emerged in that role as of late, catching a touchdown in five consecutive games - including a pair against the Bruins.

WSU, which has the third-worst turnover margin in the league at minus-6 and averages 29.8 points per game, has not played since losing its third consecutive game, 55-21 at Arizona State on Halloween night.

"They've had a long time to get ready for us," Rodriguez said.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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