PULLMAN – Something about playing Washington State brings out the best in Arizona running back Nic Grigsby.
Last year he rushed for 186 yards against the Cougars as a freshman. On Saturday, he broke that personal best with 189 yards as Arizona beat Washington State 59-28 to become eligible for its first bowl game in a decade.
“They gave us the run and we took it,” said Grigsby, who ran 28 times and scored one touchdown.
Grigsby said he was happy for the seniors that Arizona (6-3, 4-2 Pacific-10) is likely to get to the postseason for the first time since 1998.
Arizona coach Mike Stoops acknowledged that coaches felt the pressure to win this season.
“It’s been a difficult journey to get anywhere,” Stoops said. “Every win now increases where you go.”
Despite the 31-point margin of defeat, it was the best Pac-10 performance of the season for Washington State (1-9, 0-7) which is in the midst of the worst year in program history. They have lost six straight and have given up at least 52 points in five of them.
But against Arizona, they scored twice as many points as they have in any other league game, held their first lead of the season in a league game, and stayed competitive until late into the first half.
“We’re moving the ball, that’s good to see,” said quarterback Kevin Lopina, who scrambled for two touchdowns. “After today I gained a lot of trust in our team.”
The remaining three opponents have losing records, raising hopes that the Cougars can post some wins, he said.
Arizona gained 531 yards against the nation’s worst defense, including 317 on the ground. Xavier Smith scored two rushing touchdowns, and four other players also scored rushing touchdowns.
“Anytime you can run the football you can keep a team off-balance,” Stoops said.
Willie Tuitama completed 11 of 15 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown.
The Cougars became the first Pac-10 team to give up 500 points in a season, with three games left to play. The 502 points they have given up eclipsed the Pac-10 record of 469 set by Oregon State in 1981.
The Cougars are last in the nation in defense, allowing 49 points per game, and second to last in offense, scoring just 12 a game, including just 5 per game in Pac-10 play before the Arizona game.
The improvement allowed WSU’s Brandon Gibson to give his team credit for competing.
“But we want to win a Pac-10 game,” he said.
The Cougars had not scored more than 17 points against a major college team. Their only win was 48-9 over Portland State, a FCS team
Washington State scored first — taking its first lead of the season in a Pac-10 game — when Dwight Tardy took a pitch from Lopina and galloped 18 yards with 10:10 left in the first. The touchdown also broke a streak of 10 straight quarters — and more than 159 minutes — in which the Cougars had been shut out.
Arizona replied with a 12-play drive and Mike Thomas ran 5 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski caught a short pass from Tuitama and ran 43 yards for a touchdown to put Arizona up 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
After getting the ball on their own 46 to start the next drive, WSU’s Logwone Mitz tore off runs of 8 and 42 yards to take the ball to Arizona’s 4. Lopina ran it in to tie the score at 14.
Arizona replied with an 81-yard drive with Antolin running 5 yards up the middle for a 21-14 lead with 10:20 left in the half.
The WSU offense stalled the rest of the half. Meanwhile, Tuitama ran in from the 4 on a broken play for a 28-14 Arizona advantage. Arizona’s Devin Ross intercepted Lopina on the next series, and Grigsby ran it three times, the last for a 6-yard touchdown and a 35-14 halftime lead.
Arizona’s Smith scored on a 6-yard run on the opening drive of the second half for a 42-14 lead, and coasted to victory.
“It was a good solid win,” Stoops said.
But he cautioned that Arizona reached six wins two years ago and was not invited to a bowl game. The Wildcats have remaining games at Oregon and home against Oregon State and Arizona State.