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Holiday Bowl Preview: Michigan State vs. Washington State

Let’s go bowling

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been more than a month since we last saw the Michigan State Spartans on the football field, but today marks Michigan State’s first bowl appearance in nearly two years. The Spartans will do battle with the air raid offense and “speed D” defense of the Washington State Cougars at 9 p.m. EST (that’s 6 p.m. for those of you who will be attending the game in San Diego).

So, there’s only one final game left for the surprising Spartans in 2017. That also means you only have to get through one last lengthy preview of mine this season. Let’s get right to it.

Tale of the Tape:

Michigan State:

Record — 9-3, (7-2 Big Ten)

Offense — 378.3 total yards per game (8th in Big Ten), 215.4 passing yards per game, 162.9 rushing yards per game, 23.1 points per game

Defense — 297.8 yards allowed per game (4th in Big Ten), 196.5 passing yards allowed per game, 101.3 rushing yards allowed per game, 20.3 points allowed per game

Washington State:

Record — 9-3 (6-3 Pac-12)

Offense — 446.4 total yards per game (4th in Pac-12), 374.8 passing yards per game, 71.7 rushing yards per game, 31.4 points per game

Defense — 313.6 yards allowed per game (2nd in Pac-12), 167.4 passing yards allowed per game, 146.2 rushing yards allowed per game, 24.4 points allowed per game

Takeaways: The first thing that may surprise you about this is that Washington State, known for its offense, is just as well-versed on defense. The Cougars are small on defense, but use speed, agility and athleticism to cause chaos. While the Cougars are the best passing team in the Pac-12, and No. 4 overall offense, they are also the second-ranked defense in their conference, and No. 1 against the pass. WSU is of course as one-dimensional as it gets on offense, averaging just 71.7 rushing yards per game (last in Pac-12). For the Spartans, the offense is going to try to use its size to bully the Cougars. Before the season finale at Rutgers, MSU’s offense was sputtering. A quick start from the offense, and not allowing the vaunted Washington State offense to score a lot in the early-going on defense, should do wonders for the confidence of the young Spartans.

Series History

All-time record: Michigan State leads 5-2

Last Spartans win: Sept. 26, 1970 (28-14)

Last Cougars win: Sept. 17, 1977 (22-21)

Biggest Spartans win: 54-6 (1954)

Biggest Cougars win: 25-13 (1942)

Current Streak: Washington State with one win

Longest winning streak: Michigan State won five in a row from 1946-1970

Quick takeaways: These two programs have met seven times in the past, but have not seen each other in 40 years. The Spartans have won five of those contests, which all came in succession from 1946 through 1970. Wazzu won the first ever meeting in 1942 and the last meeting in 1977. Only two of the games were played in Washington: one in Spokane (1942) and one in WSU’s current home of Pullman (1947). MSU and WSU split the Washington meetings, while the Spartans won four of five in East Lansing. Today’s Holiday Bowl will be the first time the two teams have met at a neutral site, and the first time they’ve met in a bowl game.

Previous Matchups:

Michigan State: Michigan State ended its regular season on a high note. The Spartans destroyed Rutgers 40-7 and sailed into bowl season with confidence. MSU out-gained Rutgers 431 to 112 in terms of total yardage. The Spartans leaned on the rushing attack, running a ridiculous 58 times for 209 yards, while the defense held the Scarlet Knights to a mere 14 yards on 12 attempts. Brian Lewerke was efficient with 221 passing yards, 53 rushing yards, two total touchdowns and zero turonvers.

Washington State: Wazzu was thrashed by its in-state rival, Washington, in the Apple Cup. The Huskies took down the Cougars 41-14, and forced WSU into four turnovers. Washington State finished the game with -24 yards rushing on 14 attempts, while Luke Falk played poorly with three interceptions and a total QBR of 17.2, per ESPN. Washington out-gained the prolific Cougars offense by a tally of 421-345, and Washington State never led.

Key Players

Michigan State:

Brian Lewerke: 124.7 QB rating, 2,580 passing yards, 58.8 percent completion rate, 17 TDs, seven INTs, 489 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns

LJ Scott: 183 rushes, 817 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, six TDs, 18 catches for 121 yards and one receiving TD

Felton Davis III: 51 catches, 658 yards, 13 yards per catch, eight TDs

Joe Bachie: 94 tackles, 8.5 tackle for loss, 2.5 sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery

Khari Willis: 71 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, three passes defended, one fumble forced, one INT

Washington State:

QB: Luke Falk: 137 QB rating, 3,593 yards, 67 percent completion rate, 30 touchdowns, 13 interceptions,

RB: Jamal Morrow: 86 rushes, 522 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, 56 catches, 479 receiving yards, nine total touchdowns

RB: James Williams: 89 carries, 381 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, 61 receptions, 417 receiving yards, four total touchdowns

DL: Hercules Mata’afa: 43 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, two fumbles forced, one fumble recovered

S: Jalen Thompson: 69 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two pass breakups, three fumble recoveries

Game Info

Time: 9 p.m. EST

TV Channel: FS1

Location: SDCCU Stadium, San Diego

Weather expectations: 65 degrees, clear skies

Odds: Michigan State -1.5

Over/Under: 47

Rival blog: CougCenter


A couple things seem to bode well for the Spartans going into the Holiday Bowl game. First, Wazzu will be without its top two wide receivers in Tavares Martin Jr. and Isaiah Johnson-Mack. Though it helps, that is not as big of deal as the next point, as WSU has plenty of capable receiving threats. The Cougars will also be without Hercules Mata’afa for the first half (he was called for targeting in his last game). In addition to having one of the coolest names in college football, Mata’afa earned first team All-American and All-Pac-12 honors. He is a game-wrecker, recording 21.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks this season. I think the clear advantage goes to the Spartans offense here, and not having to deal with two talented receivers certainly helps the defense.

With that Said Wazzu is still a plenty talented team, and the game hinges on the play of Luke Falk. If MSU can force WSU into turnovers and keep the air raid attack grounded, it will be a Spartans domination. That is a lot easier said than done, though, as Falk can pick defenses apart. MSU also believes its big offensive line and running backs can bully the smaller Pac-12 defenders after facing Big Ten maulers all year, but again, the WSU defense is feisty and athletic, and better than you think. I am looking forward to seeing the unit in action. I expect a close game here, but I’ll take the Spartans by a late field goal.

Can MSU defeat this tough WSU team? Let us know.


Who wins the Holiday Bowl?

This poll is closed

  • 80%
    Michigan State
    (162 votes)
  • 19%
    Washington State
    (40 votes)
202 votes total Vote Now