Welcome to 2015's final installment of our Player of the Week feature. We didn't have one of these after the Apple Cup because, well, yeah. However, as with nearly every game this season, there were several players deserving of the award after WSU's 20-14 victory over Miami. The funny part is that this could be separated into two awards, with an offensive player winning for the first half, and a defensive player, or players, winning the second half.
This is a game-long award, though, and although there were several players on defense that turned in outstanding performances in the second half, one guy brought his best throughout the snowy afternoon in El Paso. As an aside, it's funny how we Coug fans always seem to hope for snow during a game, what with the 1992 Apple Cup being etched into our memories. But after what we saw out of the offense in the snow Saturday, I'm cool with a clean surface and clear skies for every game in the future.
- River Cracraft - It was so great to see him back out there catching passes.
- Kaleb Fossum - Out of nowhere, seemingly, Fossum was forced into kick return duty. He didn't make a mistake. He also made a great catch on a bad snap, allowing Erik Powell to make his first field goal.
- Peyton Pelluer and Charleston White - White stripped away a would-be touchdown, and Pelluer somehow tipped the ball to himself to turn it into a critical interception.
EDIT: I forgot this guy. There is absolutely no excuse, and may God have mercy on my soul. Also, I disagree with the latter half of this tweet's text.
He's the hero Washington State deserves, but not the one it needs right now. pic.twitter.com/Znac8BvhpS— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 26, 2015
2nd Runner-Up: Shalom Luani
Luani wasn't having a great game for the most part. Matter of fact, there were a couple instances where he chose to go for a kill shot instead of making a tackle. Though, to be fair, he hits really hard, so his target usually falls down. Despite that, Luani made up for it by snagging the game-saving interception when Miami decided to reach into its bag of tricks and call a halfback pass. Was the throw a wounded duck? Sure. But Luani caught the ball on a day when several of his offensive teammates were dropping passes. I'm really excited to see what Luani does next season.
1st Runner-Up: The Defensive Line
There was no way I could single out one of these guys, so Robert Barber, Destiny Vaeao, Ivan
McClellan McClennan, Kache Palacio, Daniel Ekuale, Hercules Mata'afa and Darryl Paulo collectively share the award. They were able to generate significant pressure without needing blitzers to do so. They also spearheaded a run defense that yielded, outside of one explosive run, very little on the ground on a per-carry basis.
They accounted for all of WSU's sacks, with one each by McClennan, Mata'afa, Vaeao and Paulo. Even better, man/myth/legend Robert Barber was credited with forcing the fumble that Marcellus Pippins recovered, preventing a go-ahead Miami touchdown. All told, these guys made Brad Kayaa's life miserable throughout much of the afternoon, and they were a big reason the Cougars took home the Sun Bowl Champions trophy.
Winner: Jamal Morrow
More than any other player, Jamal Morrow looked ready to go from the opening snap to the final gun on Saturday. On WSU's opening drive, Morrow took an outlet pass from Luke Falk, broke a tackle and tiptoed along the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown. I still have no idea how he stayed inbounds. In the third quarter, with WSU backed up inside its 10, Morrow took a handoff and burst up the middle for 27 yards.
When Shalom Luani's interception return was called back due to an illegal block, WSU was once again inside its 10 yardline, and in desperate need of two first downs to ice the game. No worry. On the first play, Morrow took a handoff, broke a tackle or two, and gained 11 yards. He gained another three on the next play. Then, when the entire Miami defense thought he was getting the ball again, Falk pulled it and easily ran for the first down that sealed the game.
All in all, Morrow gained 71 yards on just 10 carries, and caught five passes for another 51 yards and that opening touchdown. His 121 all-purpose yards were easily the most for WSU, and Miami's Mark Walton only had more because he compiled 56 yards on kick returns. I am always amazed at the uncanny balance that Morrow possesses. He is a tremendous player. Congratulations, Jamal. You earned this one.