From Phoenix Airport — It's that time again. Time to take an analytical eye and breakdown the performance of WSU's individual units in the New Mexico Bowl. While there were lots of impressive individual statistics for the Cougars, to give great grades after a 48-45 loss would make me guilty of worse grade inflation than Griffin Elementary School.
Grades after the jump.
Quarterback, A-: Connor Halliday's season began with three interceptions in a close loss at Auburn. It ended with school and FBS bowl record-tying six touchdown passes. While Halliday made a questionable decision at the end of the game to run the ball himself, his ensuing fumble wasn't a fumble, and cost the Cougars nothing. His interception on his second pass of the game was not his fault, and he completed 37 of 58 passes for 410 yards. While CSU running back Kapri Bibbs was exceptional, Halliday was clearly the best player on the field on Saturday.
Running Backs, C+: Theron West came out of nowhere to have a good game for the Cougars, picking up 17 yards on his three carries and adding 50 receiving yards and a touchdown in the passing game. The running backs were little used in the New Mexico Bowl accumulating only 11 combined carries. The backs struggled to pick up blocks when the occasion called for it, contributing to CSU's success putting pressure on Halliday.
Receivers, B+: If there was any caveat to Halliday's prolific performance, it was that his receivers were constantly breaking open. Whether that was due to their excellent play or CSU's porous pass-defense, who knows? The fact is that in the first half the WSU wideouts did whatever they wanted on the football field. Freshman River Cracraft had his first game with over 100 receiving-yards, ending the day with 125 and a touchdown. The unit did have some blemishes, however, dropping catchable balls in the second half.
Offensive Line, C-: Whatever was working in the trenches for the Cougars during the Arizona and Utah games seems to have been figured out by other teams. For the second consecutive game the Cougars gave up five sacks, and it cost WSU 52 yards. The Rams defensive line kept Shaquil Barrett and company clean enough to make plays, and WSU's offensive line was flagged for three holding penalties.
Defensive Line, D+: Destiny Vaeao and Xavier Cooper's combined sack was all the WSU defensive line was able to get behind CSU's line of scrimmage. As the game wore on, the Rams offensive line was able to open wide then wider holes for Bibbs, whose running kept the game close enough for the late-game fumbles to matter. Once Ioane Gauta was injured on a chop block, the defensive line had almost no answer for a Bibbs run up the middle.
Linebackers, C: Justin Sagote played well for the most part, accumulating 15 tackles to lead the team for the fourth consecutive game. However, Sagote was also called for a costly pass interference that put the Rams in field goal position near the end of the first half. Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen had some success pressuring CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson, but neither were able to get him on the ground. Most importantly, the linebackers were consistently unable to tackle or slow Bibbs before he got to the third level, leading to 14 tackles for safety Casey Locker.
Secondary, C-: The secondary did make some big plays. Damante Horton and Nolan Washington ripped the ball away from CSU receivers to force fumbles, and safety Deone Bucannon's interception was a thing of beauty. But the secondary was beat badly on a 63-yard touchdown pass right when the Rams appeared on the verge of collapsing, and Horton was unable to catch Bibbs on his 75-yard touchdown run. CSU stayed in the games thanks to some big plays that too often came at the secondary's expense.
Special Teams, C-: West's blocked kick gave the Cougars the ball on the CSU 6-yard line, and punters Wes Concepcion and Mike Bowlin had booming kicks of 54 and 53 yards, respectively. The coverage units played very well. But the Cougars again failed to stop a fake punt despite appearing to line up in a safe punt protection, and Teondray Caldwell's late-game kickoff return fumble cost the Cougars a chance to win the game in overtime.