WSU travels to California looking for bowl victory

Cougars will play in Holiday Bowl for second straight season, searching for first bowl victory since 2015


LUKE HOLLISTER | Daily Evergreen file

Then redshirt junior quarterback Luke Falk runs the ball against University of Minnesota on Dec. 27, 2016 at the Holiday Bowl.

JACKSON GARDNER, Evergreen reporter

Hoping to forget about last year’s loss in the Holiday Bowl, No. 21 WSU (9-3, 6-3) will be back in San Diego this year to take on No. 18 Michigan State University (9-3, 7-2) at Qualcomm Stadium on Dec. 28.

Redshirt senior quarterback Luke Falk said the team is focused on this year’s game and putting last year’s defeat behind them.

“Last year, it didn’t go our way,” Falk said. “We’re excited to get another opportunity to play down there and be a part of a great bowl game.”

It is the second consecutive season WSU has been selected to play in the Holiday Bowl. The bowl game is awarded to the second best team in the Pac-12 outside of the New Year’s six bowls.

MSU holds a 5-2 advantage over WSU in all-time matchups between the two schools. However, the last time the Cougars played the Spartans was in 1977, and they have never met in a bowl game.

Head Coach Mike Leach was unable to attend WSU’s first scheduled bowl game practice Friday because his morning flight to Pullman was forced to return to Seattle due to poor weather conditions. There has also been a whirlwind of rumors surrounding the status of two of the Cougars’ leading wide receivers in the bowl game.

Leach has yet to give details on the exodus of WSU’s two starting outside receivers — junior Tavares Martin Jr. and sophomore Isaiah Johnson-Mack.

Both Martin Jr. and Johnson-Mack requested a release from the program over Twitter and claimed that their requests were denied.

Leach stated that he “cut” Martin Jr. from the team before Martin Jr. claimed to ask for his release. As for Johnson-Mack, Leach has declined to comment on the situation, but does not expect him to play in the bowl game.

Despite all the extracurricular activity accompanying the Cougs, they have begun preparation for Michigan State this week.

With Martin Jr. gone, and the availability of Johnson-Mack in serious doubt, the team is left with two outside receiver openings in its offense. WSU’s depth chart lists senior C.J. Dimry and sophomore Dezmon Patmon as the next in line for the two positions.

Leach mentioned the possibility of moving his inside receivers to the outside position, pointing to freshman wide receiver Jamire Calvin, who has 32 receptions for 281 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

Leach said Calvin could make the switch to an outside receiver easily.

“Today we looked at Jamire Calvin, who is a guy, who I think can do that type of thing pretty naturally,” he said. “Guys who are fast are usually pretty good outside, so I think he is a good option, which we will look at, and we got plenty of time.”

MSU Head Coach Mark Dantonio said the Spartans are prepared to face a WSU team that is coming off an Apple Cup loss to University of Washington.

“All I can do as a football coach is every single week prepare for the team we are playing against,” Dantonio said. “I look for a quality opponent, and I think that is what we have.”

Dantonio said he is excited to have the opportunity to compete against Leach.

“It’s always exciting to play against a Mike Leach-coached team,” Dantonio said with a smile. “The press conferences will be great.”

This year will be the 40th Holiday Bowl. Both teams will report to San Diego nearly a full week before game day.

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1.