National Funding Holiday Bowl Preview
Minnesota Golden Gophers vs Washington State Cougars
An interesting contrast of styles is set to meet in San Diego on December 27 for the National Funding Holiday Bowl (Enter Contest). Washington State ranks third in the nation in passing attempts. Quarterback Luke Falk and receiver Gabe Marks have connected as one of the top pass-catch combinations in the nation. The Cougars aren’t just an aerial show. Coach Mike Leach’s team has three capable running backs and a big offensive line to provide protection. Minnesota doesn’t possess the high-powered attack that Washington State will bring to San Diego, but the Golden Gophers can lean on a ball-control offense to keep the Cougars on the sidelines. Rodney Smith (1,084 yards) leads the team in rushing, with Shannon Brooks (599) and quarterback Mitch Leidner (340) chipping in. Which team will dictate its style of play?
ABOUT MINNESOTA (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten)
The Gophers will need to slow Washington State’s passing attack. But it will be a challenge after it was announced that 10 Minnesota players were suspended from the Holiday Bowl. An incident in an off-campus apartment on September 2 led to those charges.
While first-year coach Tracy Claeys failed to record any marquee victories, the Gophers avoided any major missteps and nearly won at Penn State in early October before falling 29-26 in overtime. Leidner has completed 56.4 percent of his passes for 2,040 yards and seven touchdowns. Five of them went to Southern California native Drew Wolitarsky, who has caught 61 passes for 787 yards. The Gophers ranked 13th in the Big 10 in pass defense but linemen Steven Richardson and Blake Cashman combined for 13.5 sacks. This could help disrupt Falk’s rhythm and give Minnesota the edge.
ABOUT WASHINGTON STATE (8-4, 7-2 Pac-12)
Falk is without injured starting wide receiver River Cracraft. He’ll still have a pair of potent deep threats in Gabe Marks and Tavares Martin Jr. Both combined for 146 catches, 1,575 yards and 20 touchdowns. Left guard Cody O’Connell was named a first team All-American. Safety Shalom Luani joined Marks as an All-Pac-12 first team selection after recording four interceptions along with 58 tackles, including 8.5 for loss. The Cougars’ underrated defense includes linebacker Peyton Pelluer. He has a team-high 89 tackles. Pelluer will play a key role in slowing down the Gophers’ running game.