TUCSON, Arizona — Coach Rich Rodriguez has said it before. His Arizona team is not good enough to play poorly and win.
The Wildcats proved his point on Saturday with a 24-17 loss to Washington State.
"It was just poor execution," Rodriguez said. "I thought we had a good week of practice but we didn't play or coach well. We had way too many unforced errors, dropped snaps and easy field goals missed."
Washington State (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12) hasn't won this many games in a season in six years, and the Cougars still have two left — at home against Utah and at Washington.
"What this team wanted to do was start something new at Washington State," Halliday said, "and that's still well within our reach."
Halliday completed 39 of 53 passes for 319 yards and two scores, the junior's seventh 300-yard passing of the season.
The Cougars had lost by consecutive scores of 52-24 to Oregon State, 62-38 to Oregon and 55-21 to Arizona State and were 12-point underdogs against Arizona.
But Washington State's defense played well in this one.
Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey did score two touchdowns, one on a 30-yard run and one on a 7-yard catch, and he had his 13th consecutive 100-yard rushing game, gaining 132 yards in 26 attempts. But he was held to 42 yards in 13 carries in the second half.
Still, Arizona (6-4, 3-4), coming off a close loss to UCLA, had its chances. The final play came from the Cougars 13, when B.J. Denker's pass to the end zone was caught by Samajie Grant but well out of bounds.
"Even as poorly as we played, we still had opportunities," Rodriguez said. "That makes it even harder to stomach."
Halliday's first touchdown pass, 23 yards to River Cracraft, came after Arizona's botched punt attempt at the start of the second half.
"It was a comedy of errors at times," Rodriguez said, "things that we hadn't done all year."
The Cougars' winning 80-yard drive came after Smith missed the 34-yarder with seven minutes to go.
The big play came when Halliday threw 19 yards to Teondray Caldwell, who was able to gather it in and just keep his feet inbounds at the Arizona 31.
Then on third-and-four at the 25, Halliday threw to the wide open Myers, who dodged a tackler and ran a few steps to the end zone.
The Wildcats moved downfield and, on fourth and seven from the 28, Denker scrambled nine yards to the 19 for the first down. But Denker was caught at the 13 on third and six and Arizona, without any timeouts left, rushed to the line to get off a final play. Denker lofted it to the end zone and Grant hauled it in, but was a step out of bounds and the Cougars rushed the field in celebration.
"We didn't play well as we needed to today," Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer said, "and if we would have done better on the defensive side of the ball, we would have won."
Marcus Mason's 15-yard touchdown run put Washington State up 7-0, then Furney's 24-yard field goal made it 10-0 with 2:05 left in the first quarter.
Arizona struck quickly after the subsequent kickoff, Carey breaking a series of arm tackles on a 30-yard touchdown run to cut it to 10-7 with 47 seconds still left in the opening quarter.
The Wildcats took the lead with a 15-play, 90-yard touchdown drive. Denker threw wide to Carey, who broke two tackles on a 7-yard scoring play to put the Wildcats ahead 14-10 with 7:37 left in the half.
It was Carey's first touchdown catch of the season.
Arizona threatened again late in the half, but Smith's 40-yard field goal try was wide left as the second quarter ended.
The Wildcats took the second-half kickoff and went three-and-out, then Drew Riggleman dropped the ball trying to punt and Washington State recovered at the Arizona 31. On second-and-18, Halliday threw over the middle to Cracraft for a 23-yard touchdown and the Cougars were back on top 17-14.
The Wildcats moved down the field on their next possession, but drive stalled at the WSU 8 and Smith's 25-yard field goal tied it at 17-17 with 6:36 left in the third quarter.
The Cougars, in their first game in 16 days, had a chance to take the lead with 10:24 left in the third quarter but Furney's 46-yard field goal attempt bounced off the left upright.
Arizona took over and moved it downfield but Smith's 34-yard field goal try was wide left.
And Washington State was off on its game-winning drive.
The crowd was announced at 42,080, some 14,000 below capacity.
"It didn't matter," Arizona wide receiver Terrence Miller said. "We have to play whether it's packed or there are two people here. We have to execute regardless and we didn't do that."