Skyler Cracraft's 3 takeaways: Cougs left run game in Pullman; Luke Falk credited with more carries than any other back

SAN DIEGO – No way around it, that was one very large egg the Cougar offense laid in the Holiday Bowl. Washington State fell to Minnesota 17-12 but it wasn’t that close. Despite a mostly stellar defensive performance, the Air Raid offense failed in the biggest moments, with Luke Falk and the offensive line front and center. It all led to one very big question from my chair.

1. Why didn’t WSU stick to the run game?
It seemed obvious to me and others in the press box WSU had an early advantage in the run game, especially when you consider Falk never got on track.  Minnesota was playing straight up defense: bring 3-5 defenders on any given play in the pass rush, and employ some very basic zone coverages on the back end. The run box was there, but pass plays continued to be called and the football hardly crosses the sticks all game long.  The Cougs, from my chair, needed to stick to the run in order to put the ball in the hands of their best players. When Gabe Marks, Tavares Martin and others aren’t catching passes, for whatever reason, the ball needs to go elsewhere. Hint: The best players on this night were therefore James Williams, Gerard Wicks, and Jamal Morrow. The game plan and play calling will be something I’ll puzzle over for a long time. Consider that Falk had nine carries in the game. No Cougar running back had more than five, with a combined 14 running back carries on 74 plays.

2. Falk to the NFL? I don’t think so.
The offensive line struggled mightily, but Falk had one of his worst games. And for me it settled the debate on whether he belongs back in Pullman for another year. He does. Falk still has flaws to correct as a college quarterback - one of those being the reading of coverages. Throughout the entirety of the game, there was a paucity of reads, throws or decision-making skills that one could point to as impressive. It was all bad in San Diego when it came to the Air Raid, and the loss rests on Falk and the o-line’s shoulders most of all. It wasn’t until the final moments when Falk and the Cougar O found the end zone. Until that point, WSU's offense had a third-down conversion rate of 36 percent.

3. Give credit to Coug D
The Cougar defense, so mediocre the last two regular season games, kept WSU in this one. But they couldn’t do everything. Time after time, Washington State's defense came up with huge stops, stuffing Minnesota 9 of 12 times on third down in the game.  The stop corps even put WSU’s offense inside the 50-yard line after Nnamdi Oguayo force a fumble, but WSU still couldn't find the end zone. There wasn’t much more the D could do except possibly take a loose ball back for six. The only stumble they had was at the start of the second half, when Minnesota marched down the field on them. WSU gave up six first downs on that drive, the same number UM had the whole first half. And Marcellus Pippins' error, tipping the ball to the Gopher receiver for a score, was rough. But it was only one score, and the D played pretty much lights out otherwise. The defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage except in a few spots, and the defensive backs were right where they needed to be in coverage. But you can’t win if you don’t put points up, and WSU picked a bad time to stop executing on offense.

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