2016 National Funding Holiday Bowl Preview
The Minnesota Golden Gophers will try to stop the high-powered Washington State offense in the 2016 National Funding Holiday Bowl.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Golden Gophers had a great season at 8-4 and even stayed in contention for the Big Ten West Division until the last week of the season. They have good wins over Maryland, Colorado State and Northwestern. They only lost to bowl eligible teams this season.
Mitch Leidner had a lot of potential coming into the season, but did not play well. He threw for 2,040 yards and seven touchdowns. The problem is he threw 12 interceptions and has a 56% completion percentage. He will need to play better in this game to keep up with the Cougars.
Leidner’s favorite target is Drew Wolitarsky. He has 787 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns. No other Minnesota receiver has been overly impressive this season.
The Golden Gophers rely on the running game to move the chains. Running Back Rodney Smith has 1,084 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, while Shannon Brooks has added 599 yards and five touchdowns.
Minnesota has a good rush defense, allowing just 124 yards on the ground per game. The pass defense is just average, giving up 228 yards per game.
Defensive Lineman Hendrick Ekpe has been a standout for the Golden Gophers with 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Washington State Cougars
The Cougars lost their first two and last two games of the regular season, but won eight in a row between them. They lost to FCS level Eastern Washington, but otherwise lost to good teams. Washington State beat two bowl eligible teams, Idaho and Stanford.
Luke Falk is one of the best quarterbacks in college football and has 4,204 passing yards and 37 touchdown passes. He has only thrown ten interceptions and is completing a whopping 71% of his passes. Falk should be trusted to lead a great passing attack. He will make his decision for the NFL draft after the game.
Falk’s best receiver is Gabe Marks who has 867 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Their second best receiver, River Cracraft, will be out for this game with a torn ACL. The good news for the Cougars is that they have a lot of receivers who produce for them.
Despite being an air raid offense, the Cougars have three running backs who have rushed for over 400 yards. James Williams leads the team in yardage (573), Jamal Morrow leads in yards per carry (6.6) and Gerard Wicks leads in touchdowns (11). All three backs are able to help pick up yardage in the passing game as well.
The run defense is good for Washington State, as they give up only 131 yards per game. The pass defense though, is one of the worst in the country allowing 283 yards per game.
Defensive back Shalom Luani has four interceptions on the season. His defending has been one of the few bright spots for the Cougar pass defense.
Minnesota was at one point boycotting this game, but now are playing. This will prove to be too much of a distraction to win this game. Falk will have a great season finale and the Cougars will put up a lot of points.
Washington State Cougars 42 Minnesota Golden Gophers 27