Gildan New Mexico Bowl
Albuquerque, New Mexico
December 21st 2:00 PM ET
Washington State (6-6, 4-5) vs. Colorado State (7-6, 5-3)
Washington State Preview
The 2013 season has been quite a roller coaster for head coach Mike Leach and his Cougar’s. After a close 24-31 loss to National Championship qualifier Auburn to open the season, the Cougars rattled off three straight wins, including a key road PAC 12 matchup with USC. Following the three game streak, Washington State fell badly at home to Stanford, 55-17. After finishing the month of October with a 1-4 record, the Cougar’s won two straight and became bowl eligible for the 11th time in program history following a 12 point victory over Utah. The regular season then ended with a 27-17 loss to instate rival Washington.
Led by quarterback Connor Halliday, the Cougar’s passing offense comes into Saturday ranked fourth nationally at 364.5 yards per game. Halliday has found ways to distribute the ball among his receiver’s, with four recording 40-plus receptions this season and another three creeping the 40 reception mark. Sophomore Wide Receiver Gabe Marks leads the group in both receptions, 69, and yards, 770. On the ground the Cougars have struggled to find consistency throughout the year with only 704 total yards. Recording only three 100-plus yard games of rushing this year, Washington State may continue to find running room against Colorado State’s 48th ranked rush defense. Junior Marcus Mason has led the team in both carries, 83, and yards, 424, but Sophomore Jeremiah Laufasa leads with seven touchdowns.
The Washington State secondary is led by one of the top 2014 NFL Draft safety prospects, Deone Bucannon. The ball hawking senior has had an extremely productive season, leading both the team and conference in tackles, while ranking ninth nationally. Bucannon is also tied for the team lead in interceptions, fumble recoveries, and forced fumbles. Another key playmaker for the Cougar’s defense is senior Cornerback Damante Horton. Between Bucannon and Horton, ten interceptions have been recorded for a defense that allows 262 yards through the air. Horton has been able to provide key plays for this defense, returning three of his interceptions for a touchdown. Washington State’s front seven will need to find ways to pressure the quarterback and contain Colorado State’s rushing attack, averaging 202 yards per game. Sophomore Defensive Tackle Xavier Cooper is one of the bright young star, leading the team with 13 TFL’s, 4.5 sacks, and four quarterback hurries.
Washington State Leaders
Passing: Connor Halliday 412-656, 4,187 Yards, 28 TD, 21 INT
Rushing: Marcus Mason 83 Attempts, 424 Yards, 2 TD
Receiving: Gabe Marks 69 Receptions, 770 Yards, 6 TD
Tackles: Deone Bucannon 109 Tackles, 4.5 TFL
Sacks: Xavier Cooper 4.5 Sacks
Interceptions: Bucannon, Damante Horton 5 INT
Colorado State Preview
Second year head coach Jim McElwain has led the Rams to a 7-6 record and the program’s first bowl appearance since 2008. The Rams started off the season with a 2-3 record in the month of September, including losses to rival Colorado and then number one ranked Alabama. Following the rocky start the Rams got back to .500 with a road win at Hawaii in late October. The Rams finished their last five games with a 3-2 record, and clinched bowl eligibility with a Mountain West Conference win over visiting Air Force.
Offensively the Rams have relied heavily on sophomore running back Kapri Bibbs. During his breakout season Bibbs recorded 28 rushing touchdowns and 1,572 yards, ranking his second and eighth nationally. His 28 touchdowns have set a Mountain West single-season conference record also. Opening holes along the Colorado State offensive line is senior, first team All-MWC selection Weston Richburg. One of the top 2014 senior center prospects, Richburg has started 49 consecutive games for the Rams. At quarterback for the Rams is junior quarterback Garrett Grayson. Averaging 258 yards passing per game, Grayson has thrown for 3,327 yards this season, ranking him 18th in the nation. Colorado State uses multiple tight end sets with senior Crockett Gillmore, first team All-MCW, and junior Kivon Cartwright, honorable mention All-MWC. The two all-conference performers have combined for 68 receptions, 944 yards and 8 touchdowns this season.
Led by one of the more underrated names in college football, Shaquil Barrett, the Colorado State defense could be the key to the game. Barrett, a senior linebacker, was named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. Barrett’s presence will be felt continually throughout the game as he has recorded 12 sacks, ninth nationally, and 20 tackles for a loss, tenth nationally, while the Washington State offensive line has allowed 27 sacks all season. Barrett is also capable of forcing turnovers with three forced fumbles and three blocked kicks. In Colorado State’s 3-4 defense production at the linebacker spot has been plentiful. Including Barrett’s impressive play and numbers, the Rams have had consistent play from junior’s Max Morgan and Aaron Davis who have recorded 129 and 113 tackles, respectively. The wildcard of the Ram’s linebacker corpse is sophomore Cory James, second on the team in both tackles for loss, 10, and sacks, 6, the Washington State offensive line will have their hands full with these four. The Rams front seven will need to apply pressure for the back end of the defense to be able to slow down Halliday. The Rams have a youthful secondary, starting a freshman, two sophomore and a junior. Strong safety Kevin Pierre-Louis leads the group with 70 tackles, while free safety Trent Matthews leads the team with four interceptions.
Colorado State Leaders
Passing: Garrett Grayson 266-428, 3,327 Yards, 21 TD, 10 INT
Rushing: Kapri Bibbs 254 Attempts, 1,572 Yards, 28 TD
Receiving: Rashard Higgins 64 Receptions, 795 Yards, 6 TD
Tackles: Max Morgan 129 Tackles, 2 TFL
Sacks: Shaquil Barrett 12 Sacks
Interceptions: Trent Matthews 4 INT
Keys to Victory
Connor Halliday’s performance will be the biggest X-Factor in Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl. For Washington State protecting Halliday will be the difference for this offense. The Washington State offensive line has allowed 27 sacks this season, but in six wins they allowed just ten sacks with four coming in one game. For Colorado State pressure from Barrett and James will cause Halliday to get the ball out quickly and help the young secondary.
Turnovers. With both teams averaging nearly 30 points per game and both nearly giving up 30 a game, we could see a high scoring affair, with one turnover being costly. If Halliday can limit his interceptions, 21 in the regular season, the game should be Washington State’s at the end. Colorado State’s key to success they year has been limiting turnovers, as they have only five turnovers in their seven wins. Can Horton or Bucannon step up in the back end for Washington State?
Colorado State rushing attack. Kapri Bibbs has been exceptional this season, ranking atop the FBS charts and averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Center Weston Richburg is a force in the middle and will be starting his 50th game in a Rams jersey. Washington State is allowing 184 yards rushing per game on defense, can the front three of Guata, Cooper, and Pole provide penetration and slow down Bibbs?
National Rankings Offense
Total: Washington State 423.2 (53rd), Colorado State 461.2 (28th)
Passing: Washington State 364.5 (4th), Colorado State 258.5 (39th)
Rushing: Washington State 58.7 (123rd), Colorado State 202.7 (31st)
Scoring: Washington State 29.8 (60th), Colorado State 35.3 (28th)
Red Zone: Washington State .783 (93rd), Colorado State .860 (41st)
National Rankings Defense
Total: Washington State 446.6 (101st), Colorado State 417.5 (80th)
Passing: Washington State 262.6 (107th), Colorado State 265.4 (109th)
Rushing: Washington State 184 (84th) , Colorado State 152.2 (48th)
Scoring: Washington State 31.3 (91st), Colorado State 28.6 (78th)
Redzone: Washington State .778 (27th), Colorado State .829 (59th)
Turnover Margin: Washington State -5 (93rd), Colorado State +2 (52nd)
Top NFL Draft Prospects
Deone Bucannon, Safety, WSU, Senior
Weston Richburg, Center, CSU, Senior
Shaquil Barrett, Outside Linebacker, CSU, Senior
Crockett Gillmore, Tight End, CSU, Senior
Connor Halliday, Quarterback, WSU, Junior
Featured Image via Christopher Anderson/ The Spokesman-Review