The 2017 Holiday Bowl features a good looking matchup between Washington State of the Pac-12, and Michigan State of the Big Ten. It pits the oddball Mike Leach against the reserved and serious Mark Dantonio. You couldn’t get two coaches with entirely different personalities on opposite sidelines. There’s some difference there, and definitely difference in their offensively philosophy. Washington State wants to get up to the line quickly and get in as many plays as possible.
Leach has come around to running the ball more so than in the past, but they are known as a pass-first team with Luke Falk. Falk will get some looks from NFL teams, but he’s more of a raw product that will need a team to work closely with him. Any quarterback who is a pocket-passer with a decently sized frame in college these days, will have an inside track to finding a training camp in the NFL.
Falk threw 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2017. He did not come off as a guy ready to jump into the NFL and lead a team. It’s easy to put up big numbers when most of it comes from YAC from the receivers. He is 13th in the FBS with 3,593 passing yards this season. Falk was seen at practice with a cast on his non-throwing arm, leading to speculation if he’s going to be healthy enough to play in this game.
Head coach Mike Leach was asked about it, but he was pretty mum about the cast and didn’t give a clear answer one way or the other. If Falk does not go, Washington State do have a capable backup in Tyler Hilinski. Hilinski filled in for Falk a few times this season and did well. Hilinski will be the starter at Washington State next season, barring an injury.
Washington State will employ the air-raid attack, while Michigan State goes with a more traditional offense you come to find in the Big Ten. Run the football effectively, use the run to step up the pass. There isn’t much secret to what Michigan State wants to do. Perhaps the closest team the Cougars have played this season that we could compare is Stanford. They won their contest against Stanford, 30-27. Head below for our free Washington State vs. Michigan State pick.
Washington State Cougars vs. Michigan State Spartans Betting Odds:
Washington State +1.5(-105)
vs. Michigan State -1.5(-115)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Washington State vs. Michigan State Pick:
Michigan State found a quarterback in 2017. They’ve been searching for a fix under center since Connor Cook left for the NFL. Brian Lewerke looks like a guy who could be the answer for the Spartans. In his first-year as the starter, Lewerke has been efficient with 17 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He can be hot and cold, but it’s to be expected for a guy who is only playing his first season at the controls. The Spartans would prefer to run the ball and play physical football up front. Think Wisconsin and Stanford. Those schools can get away without perfect quarterback play, and it’s the case for Michigan State. Would it help? Of course, and Michigan State is hoping they have the next Connor Cook on their hands.
Lewerke is much more of a mobile quarterback than Cook ever was. He can run when he has a lane. Lewerke rushed for 489 yards and 5 touchdowns. It’s a bit different that Michigan State has a dual-threat quarterback, but it’s been working for them. The Spartans have a couple of marquee wins this season over Michigan and Penn State. Lewerke had back-to-back monster performances against Northwestern and Penn State. He passed for 445 yards and 4 touchdowns in a losing effort vs the Wildcats, and 400 yards and 2 touchdowns on the Nittany Lions.
Washington State are going to be without their top two wide receivers in the Holiday Bowl. Tavares Martin Jr. was dismissed from the team for violating team rules. He was their leading receiver with 70 receptions for 831 yards and 9 touchdowns. Also, Isaiah Johnson-Mack announced he’s transferring from the school because he wants to be closer to his family in Florida, and was critical of Mike Leach. Johnson-Mack had 60 receptions for 555 yards and 5 touchdowns.
This hurts, especially an offense like Washington State which is all about timing with quarterback and receiver. There appears to be a discord between Leach and his players at the moment. Leach was apparently interviewed for the Tennessee job. There are some players who have taken offense to that. I can see Dantonio having his troops more prepared and ready to go in this one. I’d side with Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl.