Washington State put a bow on its 2016 season and the gift inside was not one WSU fans were hoping for. The Cougars struggled offensively again, losing 17-12 to Minnesota to finish the year on a three-game losing streak.
Unfortunately for WSU, the issues were familiar ones. Minnesota adopted the defensive game plan Colorado and Washington used to great success and Luke Falk and WSU were unable to solve it yet again. The supposedly prolific passing attack was ground to a halt with WSU struggling to pick up first downs, yet alone score points. This was against an extremely undermanned Minnesota defense forced to rely on players in the secondary who weren’t even listed on the depth chart in recent weeks.
Despite that fact, WSU was sitting with less than 200 yards passing with two minutes left in the game and didn’t get into the end zone until just 19 seconds were left on the clock.
Thousands of Cougar fans in attendance were forced to watch Falk scramble around, unable to hit anything down the field. Defensively, WSU played well enough for large chunks of the game, but allowed just enough costly plays to doom them.
The game started off brilliantly for WSU. The defense forced a quick three-and-out and the Cougar offense started marching down the field. It seemed like Gerrard Wicks capped off the drive with a touchdown, but a holding call brought it back. WSU eventually settled for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
It seemed that would be the first of many points for the Cougars, but whatever worked for WSU on the first drive stopped working. Minnesota dropped defenders into space all game, crowding the passing lanes and daring the Cougars to beat them with the rushing attack. WSU struggled to make the Gophers pay or simply chose not to. WSU attempted 25 passes in the first half, while handing off to a running back just six times.
Mike Leach described the first half performance as simply “anemic.”
Things didn’t get much better. Offensively WSU continued to struggle. The Cougars began having issues moving the ball against Colorado. The issues continued against Washington in the Apple Cup and carried over to the Holiday Bowl.
The Cougars also did things like this:
That tipped touchdown gave Minnesota a 10-6 lead. It looked like the Cougars caught a break early in the fourth quarter when a punt hit the foot of a Minnesota player, but officials ruled the play stood, even after review. A nice parting gift from the officials heading into the offseason.
The Cougars will head into the offseason scratching their head about the offensive issues. They will also enter the summer in desperate need of sorting out the punting situation. The Cougars used three punters in the game. Erik Powell kicked the ball well, but Kyle Sweet and Zach Charme both struggled mightily.
The result felt all too familiar. WSU finishes the year with eight wins bookended by two losses to begin the year and three to close it. All five losses followed a similar pattern. The Cougars struggle offensively, and fail to adjust. Meanwhile, the defense plays well at times, only to give up crucial big plays.
Tavares Martin suffered what appeared to be a leg injury late in the first half. He left the game and did not return. Without Martin and River Cracraft, WSU receivers were unable to win many one-on-one battles.
Gabe Marks caught 4 passes for 27 yards in his final game in Crimson and Gray.