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Washington State plans to win first bowl game since 2003

Adrian Boraddus

The Washington State football program has been on major hiatus since the Mike Price era (1989-2002); however, head coach Mike Leach is bringing back the spark that Price once had with the Cougars. Entering his fourth year as head coach, Mike Leach led the Cougars (8-4) to their best finish since 2003.

The Cougars have only been to one other bowl under Leach, when they lost 48-45 to Colorado State. Washington State struggled last season, finishing 3-9, they posted an eight-win season with some highs and lows.

Starting the season sloppy, the Cougars were upset by Portland State at home, 24-17. After the embarrassing loss, Leach and Washington State bounced back and won five of their next six games, including a 45-38 double-overtime victory over Oregon. The upset against the Ducks gave the Cougars national looks.

After losing a tight game against Stanford (30-28), they bounced back and upset no. 18 UCLA (31-27). But when all seemed to go up for the Cougars, they were stomped on by their rivals Washington (45-10) at home.

Needless to say, the Cougars have improved drastically since the 2014 season. At the end of this season, coach Leach was named 2015 PAC-12 Co-Coach of the Year, alongside David Shaw from Stanford. Washington State had the best start since 2003, and it was the first time since 2003 that the Cougars were ranked in the top 20.

“I’m just really proud of our guys because I think we got better every week,” said Leach. “We’re a young group, you always grow when you’re young. It came down to the last second a lot, so that was exciting.”

One of the biggest improvements this season has been the gunslinger sophomore Luke Falk. He currently leads FBS in passing yards-per-game (387.8), third in total offense (377.5) and fourth in both passing touchdowns (36) and passing yards (4,266).

Falk posted nine 300-or-more yard games this season, and in five of those, he threw for 400-plus yards. In just 17 career games with 14 starts, Falk has 13 career 300-yard games, 49 touchdowns and 6,125 passing yards.

He was named a Davey O’Brien Quarterback semifinalist, one of 15 “Players to Watch” for the 2015 Player of the Year award and was a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy. Falk was also named Pac-12 Conference Offensive Player of the Week three times this season, which was more than any other player.

“We thought a lot of (Falk) from the start,” Leach said. “He played real well since he’s been with us.”

Falk’s two favorite targets on offense are receivers Gabe Marks and Dom Williams. Marks leads the PAC-12 in catches (99), touchdowns (14) and catches per game (8.2). He also ranks 11th among active FBS receivers in career receptions. Williams ranks second in school history with 30-career touchdown catches, only two behind Jason Hill’s school record of 32. He is also second in school history with 2,846 receiving yards.

While Miami is known for their wide turnover margin, defensively Washington State has been known for creating turnovers. Under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, the Cougars have forced 21 turnovers this season.

The defense is good at getting after the quarterback. The Cougars have 29 sacks this year and rank seventh in the nation with 7.9 tackles for loss per game.

The balanced attack that Miami brings to the forefront with quarterback Brad Kaaya and running back Joe Yearby will be a challenge for the Cougars’ defense.

“A lot of their run game also includes a pass-option off of it,” Grinch said. “So it just puts that much more stress on you defensively.  But ultimately, we’ll try to get as many hats there as we can, whether it’s a bit delayed if we’re covering a route, but we got to rally to the football and do the best we can.”

Kickoff for the Sun Bowl is set for high noon, Dec. 26, and will be televised on CBS Sports.

Adrian Broaddus may be reached at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Adrian Broaddus, Sports Editor
Adrian Broaddus is the sports editor for The Prospector. He is a junior multimedia journalism major with a minor in political science.   Adrian was born and raised in El Paso, TX, and is a graduate of Franklin high school. He entered college in the fall of 2015 in hopes to better his career in journalism.   Along with sports, Adrian enjoys writing music reviews, perspective columns and news stories on politics.   Although he is pursuing his degree in journalism, Adrian would like to go to law school and be an attorney while doing part-time work in journalism.  
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Washington State plans to win first bowl game since 2003