WSU will have to fend off Michigan State without Hercules Mata’afa in the first half of the Holiday Bowl

Hercules Mata’afa incurred a targeting penalty against UW that will force him to miss the first half of WSU’s Dec. 28 bowl game against Michigan State. But could this also be Mata’afa’s last college game?

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The numbers and accolades speak for themselves.

Washington State defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa amassed nine sacks and 21.5 tackles-for-loss to become a consensus All-American and finish as a semifinalist for the Bednarik and Walter Camp Awards this season.

But his dominance in WSU’s win over Utah is the best illustrator of how dramatically he can affect a football game.

Mata’afa was relentless against the Utes, set personal single game records with three sacks and five tackles-for-loss and. In the first quarter, he strip-sacked Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley and recovered the fumble, then came out blazing hot on Utah’s next offensive drive and sacked Huntley again on third-and-26 from the Utes’ 9.

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Utah had so much trouble against him in the first half that the mismatch became comic fodder for even the players during the game.

“We were in the third quarter, and I was looking at (Utah’s) offensive linemen and I said, ‘Y’all gotta start blocking Herc. Don’t block me,’” said WSU nose tackle Daniel Ekuale. “They laughed and said ‘We were trying to block Hercules from the beginning of the game. But he’s all in the backfield.”

That’s the sort of attention Mata’afa demands from opposing offenses, and that’s exactly what the 18th-ranked Cougars will have to duplicate without Mata’afa in the first half of the Holiday Bowl game against No. 16 Michigan State on Dec. 28

With Mata’afa sitting out the first half of the bowl game due to a targeting penalty he incurred in the second half of WSU’s defeat to UW in the regular season finale, the Cougars will look to some backups to hold the line until his…

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