Washington State vs Michigan State Preview and Prediction: Holiday Bowl
Washington State vs Michigan State Preview
This year’s Holiday Bowl pits an offensive juggernaut against one of the stiffest defenses in the country.
For the offensive juggernaut, Washington State, they are looking to avenge last year’s Holiday Bowl loss to Minnesota. Defense carried the end result, with the Golden Gophers clawing out a 17-12 win, holding the Cougars to 303 yards of offense. Washington State averages 446.4 yards per game this season, for comparison’s sake.
Washington State coach Mike Leach sees a different Cougars team in 2017.
“The best thing about our team this year is we’re a pretty complete team,” he said. “We had contributions pretty consistently throughout the season on all three sides of the ball: special teams, offense and defense.”
The end result, Leach said, is “hopefully (a) higher scoring” game this time around. That could prove difficult against Michigan State.
The Spartans (9-3) rank No. 9 nationally in yards allowed per game (297.8) and No. 24 in points allowed per game (20.3). Michigan State held seven opponents to 14 points or fewer in the regular season, while Washington put up 30 or more eight times.
Nevertheless, Dantonio said he sees similarities in the teams based on results.
“How do I see it playing out? Who knows? I don’t know,” Dantonio said. “We sort of had the same types of scenarios. We’ve outscored some people and had some other games that have been a little bit tight. We’ve gone back and forth as well.”
For the Spartans to come out victorious they will need to slow down Cougars QB and all-time Pac-12 passing yards leader Luke Falk.
Falk broke the record in November and currently sits at 14,481 passing yards.
“That’s pretty cool,” Falk said in his postgame news conference after breaking the record on Nov. 4. “I think it’s a team award.”
Falk threw to a deep group of receivers throughout his three seasons as Washington State’s starting quarterback, and operated behind a stout offensive line, including standout Cody O’Connell. The Cougars also feature a dynamic pass-catching running back in Jamal Morrow.
Michigan State is not so different on the offensive end.
“We’ve got guys that can make plays everywhere whether it’s a receiver, tight end, or running back,” said quarterback Brian Lewerke following the regular-season finale win against Rutgers on Nov. 25. “My lone touchdown pass was to a running back today. So, it just shows how versatile everybody is.”
Michigan State features four pass catchers with between 20 and 51 receptions on the season, paced by Felton Davis III. He caught 51 passes for 658 yards with eight touchdowns.
Though not as explosive as Washington State, Michigan State did score at least 30 four times in the regular season.
Likewise, the Cougars are not renowned for defense like Michigan State. But in five of its wins, Washington State held opponents to 21 points or fewer.
The defenses should set the tone in either direction. Washington State is coming off just a 14-point performance in the regular-season finale, a Nov. 25 loss to Washington.
Leach said he saw “three Luke Falks” in that game, referring to Falk starting slow, battling to get on track and finishing strong.
For Michigan State, disrupting Washington State’s record-setting quarterback is essential.
“We’re going to have to play well in space on defense,” Dantonio said. “Always how you affect the quarterback usually affects the football game.”
There have been times this season where Luke Falk has looked so bad, Leach has replaced him with backup Tyler Hilinksi. I don’t see that happening tonight, but I do not think we will see a very effective Falk against this Spartans defense.
LINE: -2 MSU
Michigan State 28 Washington State 21