Arizona football eliminated from bowl eligibility in loss to Washington State

Michael Lev
Arizona Daily Star
Nov 19, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Arizona Wildcats head coach Jedd Fisch looks on prior to the game against the Washington State Cougars at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It was a critical moment in the game — an opportunity to rally.

Trailing 21-6 to Washington State after an uninspiring first half, Arizona faced third-and-3 and its 32-yard line. The Wildcats even called timeout to make sure they ran the play right.

Jayden de Laura took the snap from under center ... and dropped the ball. He had to fall on it. Arizona had to punt.

It was that kind of day for de Laura and the Wildcats. Everything felt off slightly off. Even the pregame flyover was about 10 seconds late.

One week after upsetting No. 12 UCLA at the Rose Bowl, Arizona played one of its worst games of the season Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats fell to the Cougars 31-20 in front of announced crowd of 40,717 at Arizona Stadium.

The loss dropped Arizona to 4-7, 2-6 in the Pac-12. The Wildcats won’t play in a bowl game for the fifth straight season. They lost the game before the Territorial Cup for the seventh consecutive time. All that’s left to play for is taking the Cup back. Arizona State has held it since 2017.

A week before Saturday’s game, de Laura suggested he’d have something special in store for his former school. “Just watch,” he said. “This game, it’s personal.”

Nov 19, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Washington State Cougars running back Nakia Watson (25) reaches short of the goal line during the second half against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Cougars (7-4, 4-4) appeared to be the ones who took it personally, making life miserable for their former teammate. De Laura threw a career-high four interceptions, all coming in the second half. The second was returned by Derrick Langford Jr. for a touchdown. The second and third appeared to be the result of miscommunication between de Laura and his receivers – first Jacob Cowing, then Tanner McLachlan.

In the first half — Arizona’s first touchdown-less first half of the season – video emerged showing de Laura and teammate Dorian Singer shoving each other along the sideline.

The Wildcats, who entered Saturday averaging 31.2 points per game, didn’t score a touchdown until 10:41 remained. De Laura scrambled into the end zone from 11 yards out. It was nothing more than a consolation prize for de Laura, who barely celebrated before taking a seat on the bench. Arizona trailed 31-13 at that point.

De Laura’s 47-yard TD pass to Singer made it 31-20 with 1:16 to play. Arizona failed to recover the ensuing onside kick.

Singer had a career-high 176 yards on nine catches.

Washington State QB Cameron Ward threw for a touchdown and ran for one. Cougars tailback Nakia Watson had a pair of scores.

Nov 19, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Arizona Wildcats quarterback Jayden de Laura (7) is rushed by Washington State Cougars defensive end Brennan Jackson (80) while passing to Arizona Wildcats tight end Tanner McLachlan (84) during the second half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The offense’s lackluster performance overshadowed an admirable effort by the UA defense. The Wildcats set a season high with eight tackles for losses. They limited the Cougars to three offensive points in the second half — a field goal after WSU had advanced inside the 1-yard line.

Third and fourth downs played a critical role for both sides. The Cougars were 5 of 7 in those situations in the first half. The Wildcats were 2 of 9.

Arizona failed to score in the first quarter for the first time this season. WSU entered this week having allowed the fewest points and having accumulated the most TFLs in the Pac-12. It showed, as the Cougars made things hard on the Wildcats.

It was especially evident on a fourth-and-2 play at the WSU 25. It appeared that Arizona was trying to run a reverse to a run-pass option, with Michael Wiley flipping the ball to Jamarye Joiner. But penetration by the Cougars forced Wiley to keep the ball. He was pushed out of bounds just short of the marker.

WSU had a 7-0 lead at that point, having marched 75 yards on the game’s opening possession. Watson finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Ward.

The Cougars threatened to go up two scores later in the quarter when Ward connected with Donovan Ollie just outside the red zone. But Christian Roland-Wallace punched the ball out of Ollie’s hand at the UA 20. Tacario Davis recovered it at the 7.

WSU did take a two-score lead in the second quarter after again stopping Arizona on fourth down. This time it was fourth-and-4 from the 40. De Laura, under pressure, threw incomplete over the middle.

Ward’s 17-yard run made it 14-0 with 9:06 left in the half. Ward kept the ball on a zone-read play and waltzed untouched into the end zone.

The Wildcats finally scored on the next possession, thanks mainly to a 47-yard pass from de Laura to Tetairoa McMillan. But they stalled at the WSU 21 and had to settle for Tyler Loop’s 38-yard field goal.

More efficient play from Ward – timely scrambles and precise passing – enabled the Cougars to increase their lead to 21-3. Watson finished the 12-play, 63-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run.

Arizona drove for a field goal just before halftime. Tyler Loop’s 47-yarder trimmed the Wildcats’ deficit to 15.