Know Thy Enemy: Cougars abound in Holiday showdown
Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes, from the eyes of the Spartans to the eyes of MSU football’s next foe. The State News asks the opposing team's student newspaper a few questions and see football through a different lens.
Football's back, and a blowout, road win over a struggling Rutgers program seems like years ago compared to mere weeks.
And up next: the No. 18 Washington State Cougars. Or Wazzu, as so eloquently known elsewhere around the nation.
While Spartan fans feel the disappointment of missing out on a Florida or New Year's bowl game, the stakes aren't any lower. Both MSU and Washington State are ranked and 9-3, just one win away from a 10-win season.
The Cougars are led by redshirt senior quarterback Luke Falk, among others in an air-raid offense. However, two of their top targets, Tavares Martin and Isaiah Johnson-Mack are no longer with the team.
And as MSU comes in at No. 9 in the nation in total defense allowing just 297.8 total yards per game, Washington State isn't too far behind at No. 14, yielding 313.6 total yards per game.
To better understand an air-raid offense and life in the Pac-12 conference, The State News asked Dylan Greene, sports editor of The Daily Evergreen, five questions about Washington State football.
1. A lot has been said about Washington State's air-raid offense anchored by quarterback Luke Falk. How has the offense's production been this season?
A: The WSU offense has been up and down all season. The offense has had moments where they've looked like one of the best offenses in the nation and other times where they could barely get a first down. They haven't been able to find consistency on the offensive side of the ball all season, but the defense has stepped up and carried the team throughout the season. Redshirt senior quarterback Luke Falk is the engine that drives the WSU offense and when he is off, the whole offense struggles. Falk's play usually determines whether the Cougars win or lose so look for him to have a major impact on the outcome of Thursday's bowl game.
2. And there's been a lot that has been said on head coach Mike Leach. Just the antics and all that kind of stuff. From covering him, what kind of coach is he?
A: Coach Leach is someone who is very upfront and honest with the media and his players. He tells them what he is thinking with no filter and without holding back. He expects perfection from his players and he isn't afraid to discipline them if he feels it is necessary. Several times this season, Leach has made the offense do up-downs on the sidelines during a game because they weren't performing at a high level. Leach still has fun with his players, though, and goes on endless rants that cover a wide range of random topics that pop into his head during pre and postgame speeches to his team.
3. Obviously a disappointing finish to the regular season for Washington State in the Apple Cup, however, overall, it's been a good season for the Cougars. What's the general consensus like amongst the fans for the season? Was it a success regardless of the bowl game, or does a bowl win over a good Michigan State team elevate this team?
A: Obviously, starting the season 6-0 really got the Cougar fan base excited about the team and thinking this year was going to be special. Unfortunately, two disappointing Friday road losses and a devastating blowout defeat to in-state rival University of Washington in the Apple Cup completely altered fan expectations for the team. The undefeated start to the season was completely unexpected, but it was disappointing to see the Cougars drop three of their final six games to end the regular season. So a 10th win over Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl would certainly make the season more successful for WSU.
4. Who is one player on both the offense and defense who will largely be the X-factor? Where their play largely dictates how the Cougars do on that side of the ball?
A: One player on the WSU offense the Spartans will need to pay attention to is redshirt sophomore running back James Williams. Williams is very elusive and is a dual threat coming out of the backfield. Every once in a while, Williams will hurdle a defender or put a spin move on someone that will make the whole crowd ooh and ahh. He will differently be an X-factor for the WSU offense during the bowl game.
On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan State should watch out for redshirt junior defensive lineman Hercules Mata'afa. Mata'afa was named a consensus All-American and had 9.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss during the regular season. Mata'afa causes chaos for opposing offenses and is in the backfield on almost every play. Mata'afa will move along the defensive line from one position to the next throughout the bowl game so the Michigan State offense will need to pay attention to where he is at all times.
5. A score prediction and why?
A: I believe the Cougars will have a lot of motivation to win this game and finish with 10 wins for the first time in 15 years. Luke Falk will show up and lead WSU to a victory in his final game in a Cougar uniform before entering the 2018 NFL Draft in April.
24-20 Washington State.