PULLMAN, Wash. — Look at the bright side, Wildcats fans: Arizona still can qualify for a bowl game with a win over rival Arizona State next week. Nothing that happened Saturday night changes that.
But man, what did happen Saturday night was alarming.
Arizona lost to No. 8 Washington State 69-28 on frigid evening at Martin Stadium. The Wildcats looked like they were still on their bye week in the first half, when they allowed an astonishing 55 points — the most ever in a half by a UA opponent. The previous record of 52 had stood since 1923.
The first half was reminiscent of the opening halves against Houston and Utah earlier this season. The Wildcats trailed the Cougars 31-0 at the break. They trailed the Utes 28-0.
This seemed worse, for a variety of reasons, and conjured memories of Arizona’s last trip to Pullman — a 69-7 drubbing in November 2016.
At least there’s an upside this time. That Arizona team was eliminated from bowl contention that day. This one — which won two straight before the bye — still has a chance.
The Wildcats can square their record at 6-6 and earn a bowl berth with a win over the Sun Devils. That wasn’t what Arizona was hoping for before the season, but it wouldn’t be such a bad outcome after an 0-2 start.
The Wildcats were eliminated from the Pac-12 South race earlier Saturday when Utah defeated Colorado. The Utes clinched the division late Saturday, when Oregon beat Arizona State.
The Wildcats had insisted earlier in the week that the outcome of that game would have no bearing on their performance in Pullman. But Arizona sure looked like an uninspired club in the first half.
Washington State rolled up 407 yards. Cougars quarterback Gardner Minshew II completed 28 of 33 passes for 311 yards and five touchdowns. Arizona’s defense was so porous, WSU had only three third-down attempts. The Cougars had nine possessions in the first half and scored touchdowns on eight of them.
The Wildcats rarely pressured Minshew, struggled to cover WSU’s receivers, committed a boatload of costly penalties and put the ball on the ground five times.
The low point: After the Cougars had expanded their lead to 34-14 in the second quarter, Cedric Peterson was unable to field a short kickoff.
The ball skidded past Peterson, got batted around and eventually was recovered in the end zone by Washington State’s Kaiona Wilson for a touchdown.
On the ensuing possession, on third-and-5, Khalil Tate bobbled a snap, retreated and had to throw the ball away for a 25-yard intentional-grounding penalty.
With the score 48-14, Arizona drove to the WSU 3-yard line. But Gary Brightwell, fighting to cross the goal line, fumbled the ball into the end zone, where Washington State’s Marcus Strong recovered it for a touchback.
The Cougars took over at their 20 with 40 seconds left in the half. They needed only two plays to go 80 yards and top the 50-point mark.
Minshew hit Max Borghi for 30 yards and Tay Martin for 50, making it 55-14 with 10 seconds left in one of the worst halves in Arizona football history.
Arizona played respectably in the third quarter, outscoring Washington State 14-0. Tate threw a pair of touchdown passes, giving him four for the game. The second went to Shawn Poindexter. It was the sixth straight reception for Poindexter that resulted in a touchdown. He has eight in his past four games.
The fourth quarter resembled the first two. Minshew threw two more touchdown passes, giving him seven for the game, a Cougars record. WSU remains alive for the College Football Playoff and will face Washington on Friday to decide the Pac-12 North.
After the wacky second-quarter kickoff that ended in a Cougars TD, Peterson fumbled the ensuing kickoff. He recovered that one.
On the next kickoff, Brightwell signaled for a fair catch. He might as well have waved a white flag.
- Brightwell returned to action after missing the second half of the Oregon game and all of the Colorado game because of an ankle injury. Freshman tailback Darrius “Bam” Smith also suited up after missing seven games because of a knee injury.
- Safety Scottie Young Jr. returned to the starting lineup after missing the second half of the Colorado game because of an apparent shoulder injury. He was disqualified in the fourth quarter for targeting and will have to sit out the first half of the ASU game.
- Punter Dylan Klumph played with a wrap on his left hand and nearly had his first punt blocked.
- Kicker Lucas Havrisik handled extra points. Josh Pollack had performed the placement duties the previous five games.
- Senior cornerback Jace Whittaker, who has played only one series this season because of injuries, did not dress. Fellow defensive back Isaiah Hayes, who got hurt against Cal, did not make the trip.
- Freshman Mykee Irving, who’s been playing defensive tackle, lined up at right guard with the second team during warmups.
- Young was among five Wildcats who braved the cold without shirts during the early portion of warmups. The others: Troy Young, Nathan Tilford, Thomas Reid III and Michael Eletise. More than half the Washington State players were shirtless.
Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or email@example.com. On Twitter @michaeljlev