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The Good, Bad and Ugly of WSU’s Alamo Bowl win over Iowa State

That was great! Kinda sucked but it was great!

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NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Iowa State vs Washington State Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning. There’s a daily newspaper, designed primarily for military members in overseas and deployed locations, called Stars and Stripes. As you can imagine, news that gets printed and distributed to overseas locations tends to lag a bit. Because of the lag time, the paper has garnered the unofficial slogan, “Yesterday’s News Tomorrow.” Well, welcome once again to the CougCenter version of Stars and Stripes.

That was a great game (at least final score-wise), but man, that was a weird game. As I watched it on DVR, having successfully gone “comm out” for nine hours, I got the sense that WSU should have won by at least 10-14 points, yet somehow the game was another white-knuckler. Then I looked at the stat sheet, and had I not seen the game, I’d have thought Iowa State won.

The Cyclones had more first downs (22-19), dominated in yards-per-carry (5.1 to 1.6 - and yes, I recognize WSU’s number is skewed a tad by the kneeldowns), averaged a staggering 11.7 yards-per-pass attempt to WSU’s subpar 6.1 (more than a yard below Minshew’s season average), threw for more total yards, and in possibly the most important figure, averaged nearly eight yards-per-play (7.8) to WSU’s 5.0. For a little context, that’s a full yard below WSU’s season average of 6.0, while Iowa State averaged a full two yards more than their season norm of 5.8.

So how on earth did the Cougars escape with a win? For starters, WSU didn’t turn the ball over after its first series, while the Cyclones gave the ball away three times. The last two of those three turnovers set WSU up at the Iowa State 20 yard line and 30 yard line, respectively, and resulted in 14 of WSU’s 28 points. This game encapsulated Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s overriding philosophy of “It’s all about the ball.”

Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy threw five interceptions in 193 regular season attempts, an average of one INT per 38.6 passes. Friday, Purdy threw two INTs in 27 attempts. Iowa State running back David Montgomery touched the ball 279 times in Iowa State’s first 12 games, and fumbled once. Montgomery fumbled for just the second time all season in the Alamo Bowl, and the fourth time in his three-year career. It wasn’t so much a fumble as it was a straight up beasting by Peyton Pelluer, but it was still a rarity.

In the end, as can often be the case, the stat sheet didn’t tell the most accurate story. Despite not performing as well as they have throughout the season, the Cougs flew home with the trophy, while the Cyclones and their multitudes of fans went home with a big fat L.

The Good

  • If the NFL and/or a coaching career don’t work out for Gardner Minshew II, he absolutely has a future as a magician. Some of those escapes he pulled off would have made Dean Gunnarson envious.
  • I keep telling myself that James Williams is gonna pay for those hurdle-jobs at some point, but Air Boobie keeps proving me wrong.
  • I know the Air Raid is designed to spread the ball around, but it’s a borderline crime that Dezmon Patmon doesn’t get the ball more. He made possibly the two biggest catches of the game, a high-point in the back of the endzone and a circus-like juggling grab that salted the game away.
  • WSU wasn’t great at converting third downs, but the 3rd-and-12 Renard Bell touchdown and the 3rd-and-10 Minshew escape/shovel pass to Davontavean Martin turned out to be two of the game’s most critical plays.
  • Apparently ISU DB Greg Eisworth didn’t do enough film study on Max Borghi, and it resulted in poor Greg getting embarrassed near the goalline. If you rewatch the clip, the reaction by Eisworth’s teammate is pretty great. Hey bud, if that had been you, Max would have trucked your ass instead.
  • Have yourself a day, Marcus Strong. Strong made the perfect read/reaction to a Purdy pass, and should’ve had himself a pick six (more on that later). Then in the second quarter, Strong flew in off the edge and blasted Purdy for a sack that knocked Iowa State out of field goal range. I still don’t know how Purdy kept ball, as he fumbled it but didn’t let it get away.
  • Big interception by Jalen Thompson to stem the tide after the Cougs gave the ball away. It was vintage bowl game to have two turnovers in the game’s first two possessions.
  • Great read and hit by Hunter Dale to drop David Montgomery for a loss in the first quarter, forcing a third-and-long that came up just short, and which likely caused a Cyclone punt.
  • Pretty great career-capper by Peyton Pelluer. While he was a step slow a few times, Pelluer led the Cougars in tackles - seven of them solo - and singlehandedly forced a turnover that resulted in the game-deciding points.
  • Great job by Willie Taylor III to rally to the ball on Iowa State’s failed two-point conversion. David Montgomery isn’t easy to tackle, and Taylor wrangled him down well short of the endzone. (We’ll ignore the fact that nobody covered Hakeem Butler)
  • Another solid performance by Oscar Draguicevich, with over a 40 yard net average, and two punts downed inside the 20. No offense, Oscar, but I wish we hadn’t seen you six times.
  • Really liked the way WSU answered Iowa State’s first touchdown with a TD of its own, and much of the credit goes to Travell Harris, who got it started with a 45-yard kick return.
  • I don’t need to tell you how WSU handled the end of the game in Mike Leach’s first WSU bowl, so when the Cougs took over with 4:02 remaining, needing two first downs to put the game away, rear ends throughout Cougar fandom could have turned coal into diamond. The nine yards they gained on the drive’s first play, (a pass to Tay Martin) were critical, and set the stage for those two first downs. Game and trophy, Cougs.
  • One “good” for Iowa State - that running back and receiver tandem of David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler is really damn good. Iowa State will be dangerous next season if those guys come back. Related: Hakeem Butler is insane if he doesn’t declare for the draft.
  • I don’t care if the Pac-12 goes 1-and-whatever during bowl season, as long as that “1” is WSU. Even so, you can thank the Cougars for ending that ignominious streak, Larry. You’re welcome.

The Bad

  • Easop Winston, Jr., I know you’ve got the best hands on the team, but you can’t drop an easy pass like the one that bounced off those hands in the first quarter.
  • That was some of the shoddiest tackling I’ve seen from the WSU defense all season. Brock Purdy is good, but he isn’t Russell Wilson, fellas.
  • Speaking of that, you have to give a better effort when confronting a running back in the hole, Dominick Silvels. You had a chance to stop Montgomery before he scored, and you just stood there.
  • Marcus Strong made a couple huge plays, but Hakeem Butler got the best of him several times. And as far as the taunting flag, yes, I think that rule is incredibly stupid. If anything, the flag should be enforced on the PAT or the kickoff. Do I think Strong was taunting Iowa State? No, he definitely was not. Did I know a flag was coming as soon as he stretched out the ball and turned his head? Yes I did. Dumb rules are still rules, and what Strong did will draw a flag 99 times out of 100. Just run it in and celebrate with your teammates on the sideline, and don’t give the refs a chance to do what they always seem to love doing, i.e. making themselves part of the story.
  • Stop targeting WSU’s, guys, Iowa State players. And stop whining about it, Iowa State fans. Hell, you’re lucky Brian Peavy wasn’t tossed on that same drive for launching himself and hitting Jamire Calvin in the face/neck with his helmet and forearm. Blaming the refs is for losers. WSU actually had more penalty yards, and the pass interference call on Jalen Thompson was complete garbage. I did think it was funny that an Iowa State player was awarded the Sportsmanship Trophy. See, Cyclones? You didn’t go home without a trophy after all! (but seriously, congratulations to Marcel Spears Jr. for the award. Spears had a really good game, leading Iowa State in tackles).
  • Matt Campbell, you’re a really good coach who is destined for big things - far bigger than Iowa State. Learn to control yourself, my man.
  • I don’t know how much of an impact Josh Watson’s absence had, but that seemed like some of the leakiest pass protection we’ve seen all season. Minshew was often running for his life any time Iowa State brought more than three rushers.
  • WSU should have gone into the locker room with a 21-7 lead, but decided to let Iowa State march right down the field in under a minute and tally three bonus points. Inexcusable.
  • Not a good challenge by Leach on that Iowa State catch. It was five yards, Mike. Move on without risking a precious second half timeout.

The Ugly

  • Fellas, I have no idea what you’re doing at halftime, but it has to change. That third quarter was positively awful. In 15 game minutes, Iowa State rushed for 85 yards, passed for another 73, and almost completely erased its deficit. If WSU had just been competent, the game wouldn’t have been nearly as close as it was.
  • “Meaningless bowl game” guy. This isn’t specific to WSU’s game, but Twitter is rife with that guy during bowl season, and it’s pretty sad. Look at the joy on the faces of guys like Minshew and Pelluer, who got to go out winners, and tell me that didn’t mean anything.

So that’s that for another season of “Good, Bad and Ugly.” Man oh man, it’s really fun to write so many good things, far fewer bad things, and hardly any ugly things. What a season. Can’t wait for next year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go order an Alamo Bowl Champs shirt or two because dammit this is America and I’m thrilled that the Cougs are going out winners for the first time in a few seasons.


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