In a performance that might have actually exceeded the gorgeous November afternoon on which it took place, the fast start fans have been pining for finally came to fruition for WSU, as the No. 25 Cougars laid waste to the Arizona Wildcats, 69-7.
WSU improved to 7-2 overall and 6-0 in the Pac-12, while Arizona dropped to 2-5 and 0-6.
It was as thorough a demolition as the score suggests, the kind of game we’ve been waiting for since Mike Leach’s arrival five years ago.
The Cougars ended up outgaining the Wildcats 614-286 and 7.3 to 5.4 on a per play basis. It was a return to the “balanced” attack fans became fond of during earlier dismantlings of Oregon and Stanford; WSU dropped back 53 times for 474 yards and the running backs gained 156 yards on 28 carries.
There were only two drives on which WSU didn’t score: The final one of the first half, which resulted in a punt, and the final one of the game, which ended with a pair of kneel downs:
Luke Falk, who was pulled from the game just before the end of the third quarter, finished with 311 yards on a ridiculous 32-of-35 passing with four touchdowns and no interceptions. At one point, he completed 22 consecutive passes — one short of the Pac-12 record.
Tyler Hilinski, who saw the first extensive action this season, completed 15-of-17 passes for 163 yards and the first two touchdowns of his career, including a long bomb to River Cracraft.
The funny thing is that the game appeared to get off to pretty much the worst possible start when Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins found Nate Phillips for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. But an offensive lineman who had made his way downfield penalty negated the score.
From there, it was all Cougs in every facet of the game.
That first drive would end without a first down, and Jamal Morrow returned the short punt all the way to Arizona’s 25-yard-line (he fumbled at the end, but WSU recovered). Seven plays later, the Cougs settled for an Erik Powell field goal. It felt disappointing to be the recipient of two gifts and only come away with a 3-0 lead.
That feeling would not last long. On the ensuing possession, Shalom Luani took over, sacking Dawkins on first down then undercutting a run-pass option for his fourth interception of the year, which he returned to the Arizona 8 yard line. WSU put the shovel pass to work again, as Falk dropped the ball off to James Williams on the first play, and he more or less walked into the end zone for a 10-0 lead.
Arizona switched to Anu Solomon at QB, but it made only a small difference. The Wildcats did get a first down, but that was all. And WSU came back with an eight-play, 85-yard drive on which Gerard Wicks picked up the final 31 yards on a trio of carries, including the 1-yard plunge for a TD. 17-0 Cougs.
After a 24-yard completion got Arizona to around midfield, the Wildcats gave the ball right back to WSU when Nnamdi Oguayo came flying through on a fourth-down blitz to sack Solomon for a turnover on downs. Five plays later, Falk found Gabe Marks in the corner of the end zone on a two-yard fade. 24-0 Cougs.
And that was just the first quarter!
In all, WSU would score five touchdowns on its first six drives to take a 38-0 lead before giving up a deep touchdown right before half — in which Robert Taylor and Darrien Molton were both in position to make a play before running into each other — to make the margin 38-7 at the break.
It was reminiscent of the first half against Oregon State last season, in which the Cougars led 45-17. But this game was wholly unlike that one in that WSU knew how to keep its foot on the gas through the remainder of the game to finish off an inferior opponent.
Williams had a 4-yard touchdown run on the first drive, Tavares Martin Jr. had a 4-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone, Powell hit a field goal, Cracraft had that touchdown and Isaiah Johnson-Mack hauled in the first touchdown of his career to finish off the scoring in the second half.
The Cougars now await Cal, which plays Washington at home later tonight.