Washington State was a 10-point favorite to beat Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl, but the Cougars’ 17-12 defeat on Tuesday night was all the more shocking given everything that Minnesota had gone through in the weeks leading up to the game.
Two weeks before the Holiday Bowl, Minnesota’s players announced that they were boycotting all football activities in protest of the suspensions of 10 of their teammates. The situation spiraled from that point on, as details emerged painting a picture of a program in disarray after 10 football players were allegedly implicated in a sexual assault case from September.
The Gophers’ boycott lasted only two days, and even though the team eventually declared it would play in the bowl game, there were questions as to how it would perform amid the off-field distractions.
Maybe the Cougars themselves were banking on that too, because in the post-game news conference Tuesday night, as they were left to dissect an anemic offensive performance, even WSU coach Mike Leach questioned whether his players had overlooked their “distracted” opponent going into the bowl game.
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“I don’t know,” Leach said, when asked if it’s possible that WSU overlooked Minnesota because of all the boycott drama. “I wondered that. I hope not. If that’s the case, somehow it’s a total dereliction on our part as coaches that we have to address.”
“The most important thing you do as a coach is you create a sense in your players that you respect all opponents no matter who they are,” Leach said. “Despite what you guys write, we have to have the discipline to keep our head, our mind and eyes out of there, and as a coach you’ve got to make that happen. And I’ll be honest, there’s a part of me that wonders if we did that successfully.”
The Cougars tallied a season-low 303 offensive yards, and 106 of those didn’t come until the final two drives of the game, when WSU trailed 10-6 and was pressing to make something happen.
I thought we tried to make too much happen and when it didn’t work out I thought we got frantic.
WSU Coach Mike Leach
Leach criticized his team for losing its composure and having a poor attitude when it got behind the Gophers on a fluky touchdown late in the third quarter.
“The worst thing I saw was that we had a certain number of people pouting on the sideline,” Leach said. “Whether you can say we were rusty, the time off, whatever it is, I think we tried to adjust what our jobs are, I thought we tried to make too much happen and when it didn’t work out I thought we got frantic.
“I didn’t think we were very mentally tough as far as just allowing ourselves to get discouraged. We unraveled.”
WSU loses key contributors
Sophomore receiver Tavares Martin left the game toward the end of the second quarter, and appeared to suffer some sort of a leg injury.
Martin, who went into the game as WSU’s second-leading receiver, did not return and Kaleb Fossum and C.J. Dimry split reps at the X receiver position throughout the remainder of the game.
Dimry had a career-high three receptions for 33 yards. Due to a rash of injuries Dimry suffered earlier in his career, fifth-year senior from Carlsbad, Calif. has petitioned the NCAA for a sixth-year of eligibility.
“Hopefully we get his year back, Leach said. “He had a good week of practice down here, and I wish we’d gotten him the ball more.”
The Cougars also lost starting cornerback Darrien Molton early in the third quarter. Molton tackled Minnesota receiver Drew Wolitarsky awkwardly, and came out of the play holding his right forearm.
He exited the game with 3.5 tackles and did not return. To compensate for his absence, Marcellus Pippins moved from right to left cornerback, and senior Treshon Broughton played on the right side.
Per Leach’s standing policy, WSU does not comment on player injuries.