PULLMAN, Wash. — After Washington State’s final touchdown, Arizona Wildcats defensive lineman Calvin Allen limped to the UA sideline and screamed a four-letter word that isn’t suitable for print.
Anger, frustration, confusion and even embarrassment are in abundant supply around the Arizona football program these days. The Wildcats have lost six games in a row, and the latest was by far the ugliest: a 69-7 defeat at Washington State that ranks among the worst setbacks in the history of UA football.
Afterward, a somber Rich Rodriguez searched for answers. He struggled to find any positives after the most lopsided loss of his UA tenure, which began in 2012.
“Obviously, I’m embarrassed,” Rodriguez said. “We should be embarrassed. … Gosh, it was a nightmare.”
Arizona played in a bowl game after each of Rodriguez’s first four seasons — the longest such streak in school history. Saturday’s loss dropped the Wildcats to 2-7 and all but eliminated them from bowl eligibility.
There’s a tiny chance Arizona could get into a bowl at 5-7, but that would require multiple things to happen — including the Wildcats winning their final three games.
That’s their goal, but at this point, they’d take winning just one.
“We’re not going to lay down and quit,” quarterback Anu Solomon said, echoing Rodriguez’s postgame message to the team. “We’re going to continue to fight. … We can’t be 2-10.”
No matter what happens, Arizona is assured of its first losing campaign since 2011, the season before Rodriguez arrived. The Wildcats are in the midst of their first six-game losing streak since 2004, Mike Stoops’ first season as coach. They endured five-game skids in 2010 and ’11, the second of which got Stoops fired.
There has been no indication that Rodriguez’s job is in jeopardy. He has spoken several times this season of Arizona’s promising future, starting with a robust 2017 recruiting class. The present hasn’t been pleasant.
“We’ll climb out of this,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just right now it’s not fun. It’s not fun for our fans. We’re embarrassed for our fans, our program. We’re better than this. … It starts with me to get it fixed.”
Rodriguez has his work cut out, because the Wildcats aren’t doing anything well right now. They struggled in all three phases Saturday against a quality opponent that was ready to capitalize on their mistakes.
Washington State (7-2) won its seventh in a row, its longest winning streak since 2002. The Cougars are 6-0 in conference play; the Wildcats are 0-6.
“I thought we played together for the whole game, and I was proud of our guys for doing that,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “I have a lot of respect for that team and think they do a lot of good things. It was more one of those things where everything that we touched worked.”
Washington State quarterbacks Luke Falk and Tyler Hilinski were practically perfect. They combined to complete 47 of 52 passes. The Cougars’ 90.3 percent completion rate was the highest in FBS history with 30 or more completed passes.
The Cougars scored on all but two possessions. They punted once at the end of the first half and took a knee at the end of the game. Nine of their 13 drives ended in touchdowns.
The game was essentially over after the first quarter, when Washington State held a 24-0 lead. Arizona appeared to score on the first play from scrimmage, but Brandon Dawkins’ 75-yard touchdown pass to Nate Phillips was wiped out by a penalty. The Wildcats ended up punting, and Jamal Morrow returned Josh Pollack’s 36-yard kick … 36 yards. Morrow fumbled at the end of the run, but WSU recovered.
After Arizona held Washington State to a field goal, Dawkins threw an interception. Shalom Luani returned it to the UA 8-yard line. Falk threw the first of his four touchdowns on the next play, a neat shovel pass to James Williams.
Rodriguez then turned to Solomon, who played better than Dawkins but couldn’t get much going either. The Wildcats’ seven points were a season low. They have scored 14 or fewer in three straight games.
Washington State’s 69 points were its most under Leach and its most ever in a conference game. The 62-point margin was WSU’s largest against a league opponent. It represented Arizona’s biggest margin of defeat since a 75-0 loss to Michigan State in 1949.
Arizona’s worst loss under Rodriguez before Saturday was 66-10 at UCLA on Nov. 3, 2012. The UA defeated Colorado at home the next week. The Buffaloes are set to visit Tucson next Saturday.
The Wildcats still believe there’s something to play for, even with a bowl berth basically off the table.
“We play for pride. We play for ourselves. We play for the program. We play for our families. We play for all that,” junior receiver Cam Denson said. “We still love the game. We haven’t been winning. We still gotta go out there and play with pride, play with a sense of urgency — just play how we know we can play.”