Cougars take on Spartans in Holiday Bowl

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Orlando Ramirez / USA TODAY Sports

Cougars take on Spartans in Holiday Bowl

Two teams with 9-3 records face off on Thursday night at the Holiday Bowl, in sunny San Diego. Historically one of the better bowl matchups sees the Washington State Cougars and Michigan State Spartans go head-to-head in a rather evenly matched battle.

Wazzu saw Mike Leach extend his contract after briefly flirting with other schools. The Pirate returns with renewed confidence in his program with the #2 passing team in the country and a defense that has struck fear into opponents all season long. Leach will be armed with his defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch and good thing too as Spartan’s head coach Mark Dantonio’s teams has turned around the Spartans from a disappointing 2016 to be the #18 team in the land this year.

WR depth

The Cougars are without their top 2 receivers for this game and will have to test their receiver depth. Tavares Martin and Isiah Johnson-Mack and their combined 130 catches will have to sit on the bench. The #2 passing team in the land will have to rely on junior Kyle Sweet and Renard Bell (combined 86 catches) to fill the void. Expect RBs James Williams and Jamal Morrow to have more of a presence to lighten the load on Luke Falk.

Cant run / wont run

Alex Grinch has kept the crimson and gray respectable with just 4.1 yards per rushing attempt by opponents. THis is supplemented by 98 tackles for a loss this year (7th in the NCAA). Wazzu comes up big on tackles in the backfield. This penetrating defense starts with junior defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa who has 18 tackles for a loss and an additional 9.5 sacks. This bodes well as the Spartans failed to reach 100 yards and rushed for fewer than 3.3 yards per carry in five of its Big Ten games. And while Wazzu has problems running too, it is worse for the Spartans as they base their offensive identity on the ground game.

As the QBs go, so do their teams

WE have a tale of two QBs who have been up and down all season long. MSU’s Brian Lewerke has at times looked like an All-American as he did in wins against Penn State and a loss at Northwestern; in both games he threw for over 400 yards. Then again Lewerke has had games where he looked like he didn’t even show up throwing for 120 yards at Minnesota and 131 in a loss at Ohio State.

But it hasn’t been all sunshine and unicorns for NCAA record breaker Luke Falk either. Meltdowns in games versus Cal and Arizona kept the Cougars out of the Pac-12 championship game. Whichever QB comes to play, puts their team in the driver’s seat to win this game. Expect the 4 year starter to finish his WSU career starting the game; however, it is important to note that Falk has been sporting a cast the last couple days on his left hand. What could this mean? Will he be limited in snaps for the game? Tune in to find out.

SSU Prediction

This turns into a defensive struggle. Expect WSU to confuse and confound an MSU offense that hasn’t been consistent all season. The Cougars will struggle a bit on offense, but there is no way that the Spartans can muster enough against the Cougar defensive line. Cougars 25 Spartans 20

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