Cougs could have confirmed their program is rebuilt, but Holiday Bowl a bust

With a chance for Washington State to record its first 10-win season since 2003, things fell apart in San Diego on Thursday night.

SAN DIEGO — Umm … at least the weather was nice?

Unfortunately for the Cougs, that’s the only warm memory they’re taking from the Holiday Bowl. The room-temperature air in America’s Finest City was the only thing that made this game tolerable.

You thought last year’s loss to Minnesota was bad? That looked like a 60-minute highlight reel compared to the effort this time around.

Washington State appeared in its second straight Holiday Bowl Thursday, but after falling to Michigan State, 42-17, it’s hard to say they played in it.

Perhaps that was to be somewhat expected considering the 21st-ranked Cougs were without quarterback Luke Falk, the Pac-12’s all-time passing leader. A left-wrist injury sidelined the senior, thus giving sophomore Tyler Hilinski his first career start behind center.

Hilinkski looked good in the first quarter when he led a drive that resulted in a 45-yard field goal to put WSU up, 3-0. Then, the 18th-ranked Spartans decided to score 35 unanswered points.

That was probably the most disconcerting thing about that massacre Thursday. The difference between this year’s Cougs vs. those of teams past has been their ability to D up.

Washington State finished second in the Pac-12 in total defense this season, which is the best in the Mike Leach era. Against Michigan State, however, they looked like a team that finished 13th.

“We never could get them off the field,” said Leach, adding that it was “disturbing” given how Michigan State didn’t do anything unexpected. “I didn’t think we played well consistently on defense.”

Wouldn’t it have been nice to see a little more fight? The Holiday Bowl isn’t exactly iconic, but it isn’t without prestige.

This was a chance for the Cougs to record their first 10-win season since 2003. It was an opportunity…

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