Analysis | Three impressions from WSU’s 42-17 defeat to Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl

SAN DIEGO — Washington State got blown out the building in its Holiday Bowl loss to Michigan State on Thursday night. It wasn’t pretty, but here are three thoughts from the Cougars’ 42-17 defeat.

1. Another underwhelming finish to a once-promising season

This was supposed to be the year that WSU put it all together. The Cougars returned 17 starters – most in the Pac-12 – and had all the key components back on both offense and defense. Yet, for the second-straight year, WSU lost miserably to UW in the regular season finale, then was entirely non-competitive in its bowl game.

The Cougars’ defense looked lost early on against Michigan State, and the offense didn’t help them either. Four three-and-outs from your first five drives won’t give you much to work with.

WSU is used to the quick-strike spread teams of the Pac-12, and the Spartans’ long, methodical drives seemed to throw off the Cougars, who had the ball for eight minutes in the second and third quarters combined.

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So when one team is able to assert its will by playing its style of offense, and the other team can’t get its typically efficient, quick-strike offense going at all, that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you end up trailing your opponent 35-3 by late in the third quarter. It didn’t help either that WSU never managed to established even a semblance of a run game. The Cougars had 24 rushing yards. Twenty-four.

If the last two seasons have shown us anything, it’s that the Cougars are at a point in their evolution where they’ve figured out how to string wins together. But they have yet to figure out how to finish a season strong.

The 2015 Sun Bowl remains Mike Leach’s only bowl win at WSU.

2. Hercules Mata’afa’s absence in the first half mattered, but perhaps not by as much as you might think

With Mata’afa sitting out the first half due to a targeting penalty from the UW…

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