Holiday Bowl | #18 Washington State vs. #16 Michigan State
by Jarvis Mahogany Scores & Statson
Santa has come and gone, the presents are opened and we're well into the leftovers so it must be time for the Holiday Bowl. The Holiday Bowl is set for Thursday, December 28th at 9 PM ET in beautiful San Diego, CA. This matchup is a good one with two ranked teams from the Pac-12 with the Washington State Cougars and the Michigan State Spartans from Big-10 bringing drastically different strengths onto the gridiron. The winner lays claim to a coveted 10 win season while the loser finishes on 9.
The Cougars opened up as a -4.5 point favored but heavy Michigan State action has pushed them to the favorite at -1.5 to -2 at various offshore shops. The total is up to 46 from its opening position at 44.5.
The Spartans Road to Victory
The Spartans will look to send their monster bounce back year out with a victory as they enter the game at 9-3 currently after finishing last year at just 3-9. Michigan State's 3 losses all came to ranked opponents in Ohio State, Northwestern, and Notre Dame. They closed out the regular season with an absolute dismantling over an overmatched Rutgers squad 40-7.
Michigan State will enter the contest riding a strong defense that held opponents to under 300 yards per game while allowing slightly over 20 points per game. Coach Mark Dantonio once again has a physically intimidating defense that thrives on dominating up front. This defense was also very good against the pass allowing only 196 YPG, which will come in handy versus the aerial assault that the Cougars usually put on.
The Spartan offense (23.1 PPG) was little more than average but is led by dual-threat quarterback Brian Lewerke. He is a competent passer and is the second leading rusher in a solid Spartan running game rushing for 486 yards at 4.5 yards per carry. He only threw 6 interceptions after taking over the starting role. Michigan State does have a game-breaking receiver in Felton Davis III that is capable of the home run play every time he touches the ball (see Penn State game).
The Cougars Air Raid
You can't think of the Cougars and coach Mike Leach without thinking of his "Air Raid" style of offense. They are led by senior quarterback Luke Falk who has thrown for 14,481 yards in his college career along with 119 touchdowns. Washington State will be without leading receiver Tavares Martin who was dismissed from the team but this offense tends to spread the ball around with five guys hauling in over 50 receptions on the season. The Cougar rushing attack was never overly impressive and facing MSU's physical front you have to imagine the ball is thrown even more than normal.
The Cougar defense will attempt to slow down a potent Spartan rush game that averages almost 163 yards per game. Washington State gives up 146 ypg. and will have to find ways to get their defense off the field. WSU may be best served early attempting to load the box up front and force passing situations. They do not want to let Michigan State shorten the game and keep their prolific offense on the sidelines.
Washington State mindset is left to be questioned as they go thru another round of what if while they prepare to play in the 2nd consecutive Holiday Bowl. The Spartans will be miffed that they are in the Holiday Bowl while in-state rival Michigan is playing on New Year's Day. If the Spartans are able to withstand an early onslaught from the Cougars, look for them to control the game pace and escape with a victory.