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November 16, 2013

Red-zone miscues doom Wildcats - again

In a game littered with sloppy special teams units and a confused official, lazy Saturday afternoon was the theme all the way around at Arizona Stadium.

In front of a scattered crowd of 42,080 - the second-lowest home attendance of the season - Arizona scored just three second-half points and fell victim to a 24-17 upset against Washington State. The loss also clouded the Wildcats' postseason future, as the team's six wins only make them bowl-eligible but does not guarantee an invite.

The team's two remaining contests are against Oregon and at Arizona State.

"I don't think we played well in any phase. I don't think we coached well, either," UA head coach Rich Rodriguez said.

Tied at 17 to start the fourth, both kickers missed field goal attempts - Andrew Furney off the upright from 46 yards, Jake Smith wide left from 34 - to halt the scoring with less than seven minutes to play.

But with 2:15 remaining, a William Parks missed tackle freed Isiah Myers for a 25-yard catch-and-run to give the Cougars (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12 Conference) the go-ahead score.

"It shouldn't have gotten to that play," UA linebacker Jake Fischer said. "We made some bonehead mistakes."

It was one of two touchdown passes for Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday, who completed 39 of 53 throws to 11 different receivers for 319 yards, two scores and an interception.

Facing a similar two-minute drill for a second consecutive week, UA quarterback B.J. Denker led the team 62 yards to Wazzu's 13-yard line - including his 9-yard scramble to avoid a sack on fourth-and-7 to extend the game. But his final pass to Samajie Grant as time expired drifted too far to the right in the corner of the end zone and was ruled incomplete.

Denker completed 26 of 38 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown, but the Wildcats were just 2 of 4 inside the red zone and Smith missed a pair of field goals.

"It just didn't go our way," Wildcats fifth-year senior receiver Terrence Miller said.

WSU, which snapped a three-game losing streak, also collected 101 rushing yards to top triple digits for just the third time all season. Marcus Mason led the way with 63 yards and a first-quarter touchdown.

UA running back Ka'Deem Carey ran for 132 yards - his 13th consecutive game with at least 100 - and collected a touchdown via the run and pass.

Leading by four at halftime, the Wildcats handed back the lead to the Cougars early in the third.

Despite a gift kickoff out of bounds to start, UA turned the ball over on downs to continue the odd sequence of events. Punter Drew Riggleman, who had a porous 17-yard punt earlier in the game, then received a poor snap that skipped to him. But when the sophomore picked the ball off the ground and set up his kick, he never went into his motion and let the ball fall to the ground.

WSU recovered to start its next drive on the Arizona 31 and Halliday found River Cracraft over the middle on 23-yard strike to go up 17-14 at the 11:17 mark. It was just the fourth game this season the Cougs had a third-quarter lead.

"I can give you a litany of excuses," Rodriguez said. "It was just poor execution.

"It was a comedy of errors, at times. Unforced errors, so to speak, we had. Dropped snaps, special teams miscues, easy field goals missed."

A week after a rough outing in the red zone that included a goal-line fumble, the Wildcats continued to struggle. At the WSU 13 and facing third-and-9, Denker's completion to Nate Phillips came up four yards short and UA settled for Smith's 25-yard field goal to tie the score at 17.

Before the quarter was over, Mason tripped over his own feet on a rush and the lead official Jay Stricherz shouted "end of the first half" as the bizarre game went into the final quarter.

A team more known for its passing - Wazzu came into the game with a national-worst 52 yards per game - the Cougars opened the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown run from Mason midway through the first.

In the opening quarter, WSU collected more rushing yards (62) than its national-worst average of 52.1 per game.

Arizona, meanwhile, started flat and was held scoreless through its first two drives, which spanned less than three minutes. In seven plays, the Wildcats picked up just 33 yards.

After more than 14 minutes and trailing 10-0, UA pulled within a field goal on a Carey 30-yard run.

With 7:37 left in the half, Carey then added a 7-yard scoring catch to give the Wildcats their first lead, 14-10. It was just his fourth touchdown reception of the season.

The 15-play, 90-yard drive also accounted for more than half of the 27 total plays from the offense, to that point.

UA failed in an attempt to tack onto the lead before halftime. Denker executed on a fourth-and-3 from the Cougars 30, but Smith's 40-yard attempt as time expired missed to the left.

"When I say our margin for error is slim, that's just where we're at," Rodriguez said.

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Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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