New Mexico Bowl Primer: Colo. St. vs. Wash. St.
By Tom Rohrer
Cougars, Rams Looking For Victory After Long Bowl-Drought
Thanks to the campaigning of athletic director Bill Moos and two victories in its last three conference games, Washington State will take part in its first bowl game since the 2003 Holiday Bow, a 28-20 victory over Texas. The bowl game appearance comes amidst the continuing change and improvements shown by the program since hiring Mike Leach prior to the 2012 season.
After losing three of its first four games to start the year, Colorado State added six more victories over nine contests to earn its first bowl bid since 2008 (also the New Mexico Bowl). Like his contemporary at WSU, Rams head coach Jim McElwain is in his second year. McElwain has improved on last year’s 4-8 campaign thanks to five conference victories and a third-place finish in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference.
Motivation: It cannot be overstated how important this game is for the WSU program. It is the next step in the Mike Leach process to turn the Cougars into a perennial challenger in the Pac-12 North Division. Three years ago, when the Cougars finished 2-10, a bowl appearance in the foreseeable future seemed impossible. Thanks to the improvements of the underclassman and players recruited by former head coach Paul Wulf, the Cougars doubled their win total and won three more conference games this season compared to 2012.
If You've Never Seen Them: On offense, expect the Cougars to go to the air early and often. WSU averages 364.5 passing yards (fourth in the country) and 58.7 rushing yards per game (last in the country out of 123 FBS teams). A defense highlighted by Associated Press First-Team All-American safety Deone Bucannon has given up 31.3 points per game.
Weakness: Quarterback Connor Halliday averages almost two interceptions per game. This could be because of his high number of attempts and gunslinger mentality. While Halliday is a major reason for the Cougars' success, his second-half interceptions against Auburn, Washington and Oregon State factored into the three games, all WSU losses.
Motivation: Although half as long as the Cougars' bowl drought, the Rams are coming off a lengthy absence from bowl play as well. McElwain is hoping to start a run similar to former CSU coach Sonny Lubick, who led the Rams to nine bowl games during his 15-year tenure at the school. After underperforming in their only other contest against a Pac-12 opponent (CSU fell to Colorado, 41-27, in September), a win over the Cougars would be a confidence boost for Rams players and coaches.
If You've Never Seen Them: Colorado State ranks within the top 40 teams in both passing and rushing yards per game. Sophomore running back Kapri Bibbs (1,572 yards and 28 touchdowns) went relatively unnoticed across the country. Bibbs is complimented by junior quarterback Garrett Grayson, who had 3,327 yards through the air to go along with 21 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.
Weakness: The Rams only grabbed eight interceptions as a team and allowed more than 265 passing yards and 31 points per contest. The deep Cougars receiving corps will provide a challenge for the CSU secondary. If the Rams can get pressure on the quarterback with Shaquil Barrett (12 sacks) and Cory James (six sacks), they can throw off Halliday and the Cougars' offensive timing. WSU has been in shootouts throughout the season and will not tone down its passing attack, regardless of the score.
Las Vegas Hilton Line: Washington State -4
Related: Scouting The New Mexico Bowl