Will WSU still have Hercules Mata’afa and Alex Grinch in the fold when spring practice begins anew? And with Luke Falk and his top two receivers gone, who are the Cougars looking to rebuild around on offense?
SAN DIEGO – Has Hercules Mata’afa played his last game in a Washington State uniform?
Washington State coach Mike Leach refused to reveal any clues about whether Mata’afa will return for his senior year or go to the NFL.
“Any conversations I have with him about whether he’s coming back or what he’s doing, I’ll share with him and probably not anybody in here,” Leach said during his post-game news conference.
Mata’afa, a junior, has until Jan. 15 to declare himself eligible for the NFL draft if he chooses to do so. But if he opts to do that, he’ll lose his final year of eligibility.
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Mata’afa entered the game in the second half of WSU’s 42-17 defeat to Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl on Thursday night, and while his presence didn’t entirely change the tenor of the game – it was a beatdown long before Mata’afa got into the game –it did help WSU’s defense find some traction against a Michigan State offense that scored a season-high 42 points.
Mata’afa added one sack to and one tackle-for-loss to set a new single season tackle-for-loss record, with 22.5, and bring his career tackle-for-loss number to 47 – second-most in WSU history.
WSU coach Mike Leach said Thursday that the Cougars missed Mata’afa’s presence in the first half against the Spartans, but, as safety Jalen Thompson noted, “When he came back, they were still getting a lot of plays off on us, so overall, as a defense, we just didn’t do our jobs.
Michigan State kept WSU’s defense guessing with Brian Lewerke’s ability to scramble and improvise when the pocket broke down.
Lewerke had 14 rush attempts for 73 yards to go with his 213 passing yards and…