BY Art Thiel 09:27PM 12/27/2016

No Holiday for Cougars: Bad-boy Gophers win

Despite missing 10 suspended players and following an embarrassing attempted boycott of the the game, the Minnesota Gophers outwitted and outworked Washington State 17-12 in the Holiday Bowl.

Coach Mike Leach said his Cougars played “as if they were in a phone booth,” / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

If college football had a villain this season, it may well have been the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Its players on Dec. 15 attempted a boycott of the Holiday Bowl, in support of 10 players suspended for a campus sexual assault. It appeared to the world as if they were defending the indefensible, yet had the backing of coach Tracey Claeys.

The school didn’t back down, the boycott lasted 36 hours before dissolving, and the Gophers, minus 10 players and all dignity, showed up in San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium Tuesday night 10-point underdogs to Washington State.

They won the Holiday Bowl, 17-12 (box). The Cougars handed a file to the prisoners, who sawed their way out.

Outplayed throughout, the Pac-12 Conference’s second-highest scoring offense (40.3 ppg) managed two field goals until the final minute against a secondary that had three of its starters suspended. Star QB Luke Falk was 30-for-51 and 264 yards, nearly 90 yards below his average, and threw a wild pick in the fourth quarter that set up the Gophers’ final TD.

It was the most desultory bowl performance of coach Mike Leach’s five-year tenure. And for a bowl tradition that has featured wild scoring, the two 8-4 teams set back offense to the days of the single-wing and leather helmets.

“We allowed ourselves to get frustrated,” Leach told ESPN 710 radio. “If you do that (the outcome) is what you get to show for it.

“We had a great week of practice. We just kind of mentally were playing in a phone booth. We’d do certain kind of things we feel really good about: Run the perfect play, throw the perfect pass, when we needed to let it rip.”

The Cougars ended their season with a three-game losing streak after winning eight in a row, the longest streak since 1930. Meanwhile, they may have tossed a career-preserver to Claeys, who is facing a petition drive back home demanding his resignation after hailing his support of the boycott with this tweet: “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”

He has since apologized for failing to consider the plight of the assault victim, a problem he shared with his players.

The Cougars earlier had their own player-behavior issues, only not as serious as the Minnesota episode. DT Robert Barber was suspended, expelled and then reinstated for his role in a Pullman fight over the summer. A  judge took issue with WSU’s due process, and an administration review of the mess is underway.

As for the game, the Cougs had a 6-3 halftime lead but lost it on a fluke defensive mistake on the first possession of the third quarter. CB Marcellus Pippins reached up with his right hand and deflected a badly overthrown pass by QB Mitch Leidner in the end zone right to WR Shannon Brooks for the TD and a 10-6 lead. That finished an 84-yard, 10-play drive.

Leach said the offense was poor and special teams sub-par. He said the defense “had a pretty good game, but there’s that killer instinct. We got to develop that.”

Noteworthy

During the week, Leach said he believed Falk would return for his senior season but Falk has not said anything publicly . . . Washington State has a 7-6 bowl record. The Cougs beat Miami in the Sun Bowl last season . . . Leach is the first coach in WSU history to have three bowl games in his first five years. He is a career 6-6 in bowl games at Pullman and Texas Tech . . . In the 2006 Insight Bowl win over Minnesota, Leach led Tech to the largest comeback win in NCAA bowl history, erasing a 38-7 deficit with 31 straight points before winning in overtime, 44-41 . . . WSU was estimated to have sold about 7,800 tickets, Minnesota about 2,600.

 

 


YourThoughts

  • Wade Gustafson

    Gophers!

    • art thiel

      If you say so.

  • coug73

    Pitiful. Just pitiful.

    • art thiel

      This must pain you, 73.

  • Nads

    Falk might as well return to the Cuogs next season. The one thing he proved to NFL teams tonight is that he wouldn’t even make a decent back up QB.
    And one thing Leach is showing is that he does just enough to keep his job…in Pullman.

    • art thiel

      Falk is a skinny 214 pounds. Really needs another year of maturation.

  • Pixdawg13

    Leach was totally outcoached in this one.

    • art thiel

      Amazing he couldn’t get these guys prepared.

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  • David Michel

    Hilarious, just hilarious

  • 1coolguy

    Coug’d it

  • Husky73

    Mike Leach is a very odd man. On the sidelines he looks completely flummoxed. They made no halftime adjustments and only tried to stretch the field a couple of times.

    • art thiel

      But he put it all on Falk. As per usual.

      • Schaefdawg

        Yes, and that seems to be his MO as a coach, “It’s the kids fault. They didn’t do what I told them, what am I supposed to do?”

  • Schaefdawg

    Embarrassing, even for a Huskie to watch, this is on Leach…

  • Schaefdawg

    I really think coach Leach got lazy and overconfident regarding the Gophers situation, and that translated down to the players, he mailed it in, and so did they. He says all the right things, but in the end they played terribly.

    • art thiel

      I don’t think he’s lazy, but I think his tactics sometimes cause some players to check out on him.

      • Husky73

        I think that is an excellent point. He just turns people off to the point where you really don’t want to interact or hear from him. He acts like it is a huge burden and sacrifice on his part to communicate. Every press conference or interview is like a root canal for him, and those asking the questions are fools that he is required to deal with. I would hate to be a member of his staff.

  • woofer

    Lazy effort. Cougs must have thought they were playing a pushover like Eastern Washington.

  • SAL9000

    I’m a huge Coug fan and alum (I was at the Holiday Bowl!) but folks have to remember that Cougar football has never really been about winning. Despite the many high points of the program – Mayes, Thompson, Rosenbach, Leaf, Bledsoe, Rypien, Erickson, latter Price years, etc., only a handful of times (like 7?) since WWII have the Cougs had back-to-back winning seasons, and only ONCE have they had three winning seasons in a row. After inheriting one of the worst programs among all 125+ FBS teams, after but five years Leach has 3 winning seasons and 3 bowl appearances in a (Power Five) conference. This is literally unheard of in Coug football history, and would be a high mark of most any program.

    In the least Leach adjusted this season (which I predicted at the end of last season) to allow for far more running, which is critical to success in the PAC-12 – this Air Raid stuff isn’t sustainable in the PAC-12. I predict for 2017 that he’ll drift away from the “system” approach to coaching toward actually coaching one-on-one and taking more responsibility for running the game, and this includes getting a good kicker. That would/should prevent the FCS debacles, and to a lesser extent, a portion of the other losses. For both 2015 and 2016 the Cougs should have had 10-win seasons.

    Yes, he’s a weirdo. Yes, there’s a discipline problem. Yes, his “system” approach (of leaving most of the offensive calls to the QB) of coaching is streaky, unpredictable, and seemingly lazy, but gosh darn it, Cougar football has always been a bit of an odd duck and we’ll take him! (Or, more specifically, we’ll take what we can get ;)).