The Minnesota Golden Gophers came into the 2016 Holiday Bowl shorthanded on the defensive side of the ball due to the loss of three key defensive contributors. Many thought that would be too much to overcome against the high powered Washington State Cougar offense.
Not true. The Gopher defense gave Cougar quarterback Luke Falk headaches all night by providing pressure and blanketing his wide receivers, limiting the Washington State offense to a pair of field goals and a late touchdown.
On offense the Gophers did just enough to secure their second consecutive bowl victory. They converted on a lone Emmit Carpenter field goal in the opening half, but it was a fluke touchdown pass from Mitch Leidner to Shannon Brooks that proved to be the difference. The senior's pass into the endzone was clearly overthrown and appeared to be on the verge of being intercepted. However, the ball deflected off the hands of Marcellus Pippins and into the hands of Brooks for the score. The touchdown gave Minnesota a 10-6 lead with 3:23 left in the third quarter.
Trailing 10-6 with 3:19 remaining in the fourth quarter Mike Leach kept his offense on the field. It was a move he would regret. Falk's pass was intercepted by Adekunle Ayinde and returned to the Cougar 31. The Gopher running game took over from there and Rodney Smith finished off the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run to give Minnesota a 17-6 lead.
The Cougars were able to find the endzone on the ensuing drive on an 8-yard scoring strike from Falk to Kyle Sweet (failed 2-point conversion) but only 19 seconds remained on the clock with the Gophers still leading 17-12.
The Gophers finish their 2016 campaign with a final record of 9-3 (5-4), including going 2-0 against Pac-12 teams Oregon State and Washington State. Minnesota opens their 2017 season Thursday night, August 31 against the Buffalo Bulls.