Going bowling


Members of the Cougar defense celebrate after a play during the Apple cup, Friday, Nov. 29.

A somewhat tumultuous season for the Cougar football team has ended with good news. WSU earned a spot in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 21 and will play the Colorado State Rams. 

“We are certainly excited about our bowl invitation and to be back playing in the postseason after about a decade drought,” Director of Athletics Bill Moos said. “We play a very good opponent in Colorado State. I think it should be a great game, and I know our players and coaches and fans are very excited.”

Moos said about 2,500 tickets had been reserved in advance before the location of the bowl had been announced. Moos said he expects a large fan base to attend the game in New Mexico. Ticket orders are available now to the public. 

Head Coach Mike Leach is no stranger to these bowl games and expressed his excitement for advancing to the postseason in his second year at the helm of the Cougar football team.

“Everybody has worked hard together, and we’ve steadily improved throughout the season,” Leach said. “I have a long way to go and have to continue to improve, but we’re steadily making progress and really excited about this opportunity.”

He also expressed a special appreciation for having an extra game with the team. Leach said he finds it fulfilling to experience the excitement and activities of bowl games with the people he worked hard with over the course of a long season. 

“They’re all special for different reasons because it’s an opportunity for your team to be together longer and work together for a longer period of time because this is the last game that this team will actually play together,” Leach said. 

The Cougars finished the season with a 6-6 record winning two of their final three games, which helped their case for making a bowl game. When the regular season ended, Washington State was tied with the Oregon State Beavers and the Arizona Wildcats in the Pac-12 Conference. All three teams finished with a 4-5 record in the conference, making a spot in a bowl game anything but certain for them. 

Now WSU focuses its attention on the Rams of the Mountain West Conference. The Rams finished the season at 7-6 and were known for scoring early and often. Colorado State outscored its opponents 252-168 in the first half and averaged 35.3 points per game. 

The Cougars have been slightly outscored by their opponents this season, but they have averaged almost 30 points per game. 

Redshirt sophomore running back Kapri Bibbs led the Mountain West Conference with 1,572 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground. The Rams ran the ball well as a team during the regular season and finished third in the conference in terms of rushing offense. 

However, the WSU defense has shown throughout the year that it can shut down key players in opponents’ offenses. 

“We play really hard, and I’ve been proud of our guys and how hard they play,” Leach said. “I just think that as they’ve gotten older and more experienced their skills have improved.”

The Cougars’ Air Raid offense clearly contrasts with the Rams’ style of play, which creates a direct contest between the pass and the run. 

Redshirt junior quarterback Connor Halliday and his arsenal of receivers will look to attack a Colorado State pass defense that gave up more than 3,400 yards and 27 touchdowns through the air this season. The Rams only picked off nine passes all year, which could bode well for Halliday’s woes related to interceptions. 

Halliday threw two interceptions in the team’s last game of the season against the Washington Huskies, but overall the redshirt junior managed to total 28 passing touchdowns compared to 21 interceptions. 

His favorite target, sophomore wide receiver Gabe Marks, has amassed 69 receptions for 770 yards and six touchdowns. Fellow wide receiver, redshirt sophomore Dominique Williams, leads the team with seven receiving touchdowns. 

The Rams also have two receiving threats in freshman wide receiver Rashard Higgins and redshirt junior tight end Kivon Cartwright, who each had six receiving touchdowns this season. 

The numbers seem to predict an offensive shootout in this one, but as the Cougar players have preached all season, anything can happen on any given day, and any team has a chance at winning. 

“You play in the best conference in the country, you have the toughest schedule in the nation, and you’re bowl-eligible,” Leach said. “It’s unfathomable that we wouldn’t go to a bowl.”

The bowl game is the first of the college football postseason and is the Cougars’ first bowl appearance since 2003. The game will kick off at 11 a.m.