Another physical Big Ten team, another embarrassing loss for the Washington State Cougars in the Holiday Bowl.
Missing four starters — including injured quarterback Luke Falk and suspended (for a half) defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa — the Cougs didn’t put up much of a fight against the Michigan State Spartans, who took a 21-3 halftime lead and never looked back, eventually winning 42-17.
The game wasn’t a blowout from the beginning, but as the WSU offense struggled to move the ball with Tyler Hilinski taking the snaps, the Spartans began to wear the Cougs down.
The critical stretch came in the Spartans’ final three drives of the first half.
It started with a 16-play, 81-yard drive that spanned 9:24 from late in the first quarter until deep into the second. It culminated when MSU QB Brian Lewerke broke the pocket and then threw against his body to somehow find Cody White in the back of the end zone even after WSU had dropped eight on the play, giving Sparty a 7-3 lead.
WSU came back with a three-and-out, and with the offense struggling, the defense appeared to just get further worn down. The next drive lasted just four plays and covered 63 yards, ending with a 49-yard touchdown pass to a mystifyingly wide open Felton Davis when Jalen Thompson and Marcellus Pippins appeared to be playing two different coverages.
Following another three-and-out, MSU drove 68 yards in six plays to go up 21-3, effectively ending the game.
In total, WSU ran just eight plays in the second quarter, for a grand total of 27 yards. Hilinski looked more like Luke Falk than the guy we saw against Boise State and Arizona, repeatedly making short, safe throws that did little damage to Michigan State; he completed 17 of 24 passes for just 89 yards.
MSU, meanwhile, gained 206 yards in the second quarter and scored 21 points.
It didn’t get better in the second half, as the Spartans took the kickoff and marched down the field for a 10-play, 67-yard touchdown drive. Then, to really, really, really put the game out of reach, they recovered a fumbled snap by Hilinski on the 27-yard line and then found the end zone seven plays later for a 35-3 lead.
WSU did score some points in the second half; Hilinski found Tay Martin for a pair of touchdowns, finishing 39-of-50 for 279 yards and an interception. But it was far too little, far too late.
And for the second consecutive year, a season that had so many good feelings ended with a resounding thud. A chance to win 10 games for just the fifth time in program history was missed, as the Cougars finish the season 9-4.