WSU's offense had another massive day and for the first time in 12 years, the Cougars have won three consecutive Pac-12 games after defeating Arizona 45-42 in Tucson today.
The Cougars are now 5-2 overall and second place in the Pac-12 North at 3-1 with first place Stanford coming to Pullman next week. They also need just one more victory to gain bowl eligibility.
Luke Falk had another enormous game, completing 47-of-62 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns as WSU outgained the Wildcats 631-438. And it was a quick start that was key.
WSU proved that last week's first half was no fluke, dropping 31 points on Arizona before the break behind 335 passing yards and four touchdowns from Falk. Three of those TDs went to Gabe Marks, who flashed his entire repertoire of skills in amassing 73 yards on six catches.
Great hands and feet? Check.
The fourth TD was Kyrin Priester's first TD catch, a beautiful fade that has become a tremendous weapon for the Cougs when receivers are singled up on the outside.
As usual, it wasn't a perfect first half, as the #specialforces allowed another punt return for a TD -- Arizona had a punt block on, so the coverage should have been simple, but ... yanno. That said, special teams weren't a total loss; WSU's third TD was a direct result of a fumble forced by Kache Palacio on a kickoff, which the Cougars recovered. It's not too much of a stretch to conclude that extra possession ended up being the difference in the game. (It also didn't hurt that WSU put the ball on the ground four times and recovered all of them.)
The defense was solid in the first half, allowing just 14 points and 182 yards. WSU held a yards-per-play advantage of 7.4 to 5.5.
The Cougars didn't slow down after halftime. After a botched third down snap caused Arizona to punt from its own territory, WSU drove right down the field for an 11-play, 84-yard drive that ended with Gerard Wicks powering over the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown.
Arizona, though, changed the complexion of the game by switching from Anu Solomon to Jerrard Randle and putting the latter's greatest attribute -- his legs -- to work. And it would become hang-on time for the Cougars after Rich Rodriguez's adjustments.
Spanning the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were able to get a pair of stops on the Cougs and follow them up with touchdowns -- the first spanning 80 yards in 11 plays, the second 67 yards in 12 plays. The biggest culprit was poor defense on third down; at one point, WSU had given up conversions on 4 of 7 tries in the second half.
With Arizona having pulled to within three points at 38-35 and 8:01 remaining -- plenty of time if the Wildcats could get ball back -- WSU needed to respond. And Falk was up to the challenge.
The Cougars put together an 11-play, 76 yard drive that featured the return of the Gabe Marks Show. Facing 2nd-and-15 from the Arizona 31 after a holding penalty negated an apparent Gerard Wicks touchdown run, Marks pulled in a 16-yard reception to pick up a first down. Then, after Falk was able to convert a critical 4th-and-1 with a QB sneak from the Arizona 7 -- the Wildcats inexplicably left the center uncovered -- he found Marks in the back of the end zone for his fourth touchdown catch of the day.
They were his only two receptions of the second half, and he finished with 97 yards on 8 receptions. The four receiving TDs in a game is a school record.
Leading by 10 with 2:03 remaining, the game appeared to be well in hand. But nothing comes easy for this team, and Randle did precisely what most weren't sure he could do: Complete passes at a high rate. After running about a minute off the clock on short passes completed in bounds, Randle found Cayleb Jones for 38 yards when safety Shalom Luani appeared to be late helping out his corner. Then, Luani got beat on the next play for a 20-yard TD despite getting his fingertips on the throw, which was hauled in by Johnny Jackson's fingertips. It was a tremendous throw and catch that allowed Arizona to cover more than 50 yards for a score in about 15 seconds.
Suddenly, the Cougs needed to make a few more plays to finish the game.
The first came when Dom Williams skied to grab Arizona's excellent onside kick. But with Arizona having not used any timeouts on its TD drive (seriously), WSU still needed to pickup a first down to avoid having to kick it away.
No problem. Wicks picked up two, Jamal Morrow gained seven, and -- facing 3rd-and-1 -- Wicks gained the final yard to end the game. Again.