Cougs find new bowl opponent

Miami drops from Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl; Central Michigan fills in



WSU punter Nick Haberer (38) walks out onto the field before the Apple Cup, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at Husky Stadium in Seattle.

TOM ABBOTT, Evergreen sports editor

WSU football (7-5) is now set to face Central Michigan (8-4) in the 88th rendition of the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl at 9 a.m. New Year’s Eve in El Paso, Texas.

WSU and Central Michigan are making the best of a bad situation. WSU was set to face Miami in the Sun Bowl but the Hurricanes withdrew from the bowl game due to a spread of COVID-19 within the football program. 

Central Michigan was set to face Boise State in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl, but found themselves in the same situation as WSU after the Boise State football program contracted COVID-19. 

This is an interesting matchup under normal circumstances and an even more interesting matchup since Central Michigan’s participation was announced just three days before the bowl game is set to be played. 

Typically, football teams have an entire week to prepare for an opponent by watching film and analyzing game plans. Teams have even more time to prepare for bowl games, with bowl opponents announced weeks before games. Late nights at each team’s respective hotels will likely be necessary to fully analyze film before the game.

The two teams were slated to play a home-and-home in 2019 and 2021 but the series was canceled in 2016.

The Cougs come into the matchup after a storied end to their 2021 season. WSU lost their former head coach Nick Rolovich due to COVID-19 vaccination requirements midway through the season. Then-defensive coordinator Jake Dickert stepped up to the interim head coaching position and led the Cougs to a 3-2 record to end the season. 

Dickert’s greatest accomplishment as interim head coach came against Washington in the Apple Cup. Dickert had control of the game from the opening kickoff, ending the Apple Cup with the first WSU victory over the Huskies in eight years. Dickert was then made the permanent head coach by WSU athletic director Pat Chun. 

The quarterbacks of each team are evenly matched. WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura had a solid year at the quarterback role, putting up 2,751 yards and 23 touchdowns. De Lauraled all Pac-12 quarterbacks in total yards and touchdowns in the 2021 regular season. Central Michigan quarterback Daniel Richardson followed closely behind de Laura with 2,424 yards and tied de Laura with 23 touchdowns of his own. 

The WSU run-game will look a little different in the Sun Bowl. WSU’s leading rusher, Max Borghi will not be participating in the bowl game so that he can prepare for the upcoming NFL draft. WSU offensive lineman Abraham Lucas has also elected to not participate in the Sun Bowl in preparation for the NFL draft. Lucas had a stellar year at the line of scrimmage, providing consistent protection for de Laura in the pocket. WSU’s Deon McIntosh will likely take the majority of snaps at the running back position, followed by upcoming running back Nakia Watson. 

The Cougs should not suffer too much without Borghi, with the game plan still centered around passing. WSU wide receivers Calvin Jackson Jr. and Travell Harris will likely have the most catches for the Cougs, as has been the theme all season. Jackson leads WSU with 955 yards, followed by Harris with 801 yards.

Central Michigan runs a balanced offense, able to gain yards with the ball in the air and on the ground. Richardson targeted wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton the most throughout the 2021 regular season. Pimpleton put up impressive numbers at the wide receiver role, responsible for 929 yards and 58 receptions. The receiver finds most of his success downfield, averaging 16 yards per catch.

When the ball is not flying from Richardson, it can be found in running back Lew Nichols II’s hands. Nichols II had an outstanding breakout year in the backfield, putting up 1,710 yards and 15 touchdowns. The five-foot-ten, 220 pounder uses his sturdy frame to power through defenses on a consistent basis. Nichols II will be a tough person for the Cougs to bring down come New Year’s Eve. 

WSU cornerback Jaylen Watson has also elected not to play in the Sun Bowl to prepare for the upcoming NFL draft. Watson is the third Coug to make this decision, joining Borghi and Lucas. 

Fans can watch the game on CBS.