Holiday Bowl: Minnesota 17, Washington State 12, 5 Things That Matter, What’s Next For 2017?
Minnesota blew past the controversy to pitch a defensive gem in a 17-12 win over Washington State in the National Funding Holiday Bowl. What are the five things that matter, and what’s next for 2017?
Minnesota wins on all fronts
It was an ugly situation that wasn’t handled well by the players or the coaches, but the University of Minnesota passed with flying colors – and the football team just so happened to beat Washington State.
Considering how awful things were getting, and what a black eye this could’ve been on the school, the football program, and the bowl system, this could’ve been a whole lot worse. Instead, the university held its ground, the football team played, and the coaching staff destroyed Mike Leach and the Washington State staff.
The Cougar offense went absolutely nowhere
There wasn’t much of an excuse for Washington State, considering the Minnesota suspensions mostly hit the secondary. But the Gophers played at an extra, ultra-motivated gear from the start. The football players might have whiffed on how they handled the suspensions and the situation, but they sure showed a focus throughout.
QB Mitch Leidner was brilliant in the second half and came up with a big game, even though he only came up with 129 yards and a score.
The running game didn’t really work – Rodney Smith only ran for 74 yards and a score and Shannon Brooks was held to 51 – but the offense did what it had to do with two second half touchdowns to allow the defense to do the rest.
Wazzu QB Luke Falk only threw for 264 with a score and a pick – with most of the yards coming late on the final drive – and nothing else was happening, finishing with just 303 yards.
Minnesota only came up with 280, and the ten penalties were a problem, but under the trying circumstances, Minnesota got the win.
Pac-12? Ohhhhh, noooo. Pac-12
The Pac-12 still doesn’t really have any decent non-conference wins outside of Stanford beating Kansas State.
Yeah, Utah beating BYU was fine, and Cal beating Texas was cool, but the league desperately needed something to hang its hat on this bowl season, and it certainly didn’t get off to a rousing start.
Washington State was in the mix for the Pac-12 title late in the season, and it couldn’t do what Washington State does on the national stage. There’s still plenty of time for the Pac-12 to rock – USC, Colorado and Washington will be the standard-bearers – but this would’ve been a nice win to help the cause.
What’s next for Minnesota in 2017?
Conor Rhoda will get the first look at replacing Mitch Leidner at quarterback, but do the Gophers have any receiving weapons? They lose Drew Wolitarsky, but he hardly qualified as a true No. 1 guy. The running back tandem of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks will dominate behind one of the better lines in the Big Ten West. Right tackle Jonah Pirsig is gone, but the other four starters are back.
The defense is the big question mark considering the suspensions in the secondary – there might be a total overhaul with four new starters. The front seven has massive issues, too, losing four starters in the front seven including the linebacking tandem of Nick Rallis and Jack Lynn.
What’s next for Washington State in 2017?
QB Luke Falk is back for his senior year, but top targets River Cracraft and Gabe Marks are done. It’s Washington State – there will be other receivers. Jamal Morrow is a good back to balance things out a bit, and the line should be okay despite the loss of Eduardo Middleton at right guard.
The defense that came up with its breakthrough season welcomes back all four starters up front, and all the top backups. It could and should be the best Wazzu D line in years. Top safety Shalon Luani is finished, but the other three defensive backs return. Hybrid nickel defender Parker Henry is gone, too.