By Brent Stecker
If there's a win that would signal that Washington State is ready to be a top-half team in the Pac-12, it may be one over Arizona on Saturday.
Still two wins away from bowl eligibility with three games to go, the Cougars (4-5 overall, 2-4 Pac-12) will bring their air assault to Tuscon after a bye week. There they'll have to hold down the run-heavy Wildcats (6-3, 3-3), which is no easy task considering they've scored at least 30 points in all but one game this season.
Ka'Deem Carey, the nation's leading rusher in 2012, ranks fourth this season with 1,221 yards in eight games. (AP)
"(Carey is) real steady, plays hard, plays pretty good," Washington State coach Mike Leach said Monday. "He might be the best one in the league – he's certainly one of the best ones. He's got a little power to him, too."
The Cougars will also have to contain quarterback B.J. Denker, who has 645 yards on the ground and is tied with Carey for the team lead with 11 rushing touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats have been strong against the pass, which will present a challenge for the Cougars' seventh-ranked passing offense (365 yards per game). Arizona has allowed 213.9 passing yards per game in 2013, good enough for 29th in the nation.
"They have great defensive backs. They're fast, they're great in coverage, they can fly up and hit," said Cougars freshman receiver River Cracraft. "We're just gonna play our game and I think we'll be fine."
It's been a long break for Washington State, which last played on Oct. 31 in a crushing 55-21 loss at home to Arizona State.
"After that loss to ASU, everyone's kinda more focused. We came out flat against ASU, and that's not something we want to continue to do," Cracraft said. "We're really taking this seriously, and that loss really hurts.
"Scheme-wise we're not really doing anything differently. It's a different vibe around the team. We're ready for this week and ready to attack it."
Cracraft is Leach's kind of player
Cracraft has had a significant impact in the Cougars' offense this year, especially for a freshman. His 355 receiving yards rank fourth on the team, and he was a bright spot in the Arizona State loss with four receptions for 78 yards.
Leach is definitely a fan of his effort and production.
"He came in ready to play right away – didn't allow himself to get distracted," Leach said. "He just quietly went fast and went hard every single play. If you get guys that'll go hard every play ... they get a level of consistency and they can develop their skills, which he did. So he's been a starter since the day he came here. That all started in camp, and I thought he was impressive there."
Leach went on to compare Cracraft to one of his better-known former players at Texas Tech.
"A guy I had in the past that he reminds me a lot of is Danny Amendola," Leach said. "Not necessarily perfect. If you needed him to adjust something he probably wasn't going to. He just was going to do it exactly as it was on the board, full speed. With guys like that you gotta make sure how you draw the lines on the board because they'll duplicate it exactly."