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After a long wait, the Sun will finally shine on WSU and its fans

Diego Favela, 5, cheers with his sister Angela, standing behind him, during the 19th annual Hyundai Sun Bowl Fan Fiesta on Friday  at Judson F. Williams Convention Center in El Paso, Texas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Diego Favela, 5, cheers with his sister Angela, standing behind him, during the 19th annual Hyundai Sun Bowl Fan Fiesta on Friday at Judson F. Williams Convention Center in El Paso, Texas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Where were we? Oh, right. The Sun Bowl. El Paso. Texas. Cougars versus Hurricanes. What’s going to happen? Read on.

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• For the second time in three years, the Washington State Cougars are playing in a bowl game. The first of those, in 2013, seemed to catch Cougar fans by surprise. And it didn’t end well. But this one, coming as it does on the heels of an 8-4 regular season, has been met with a delicious anticipation. Countdowns on social media have been common. So has the trash talk. Any Cougar who saw Miami lose to Clemson 58-0 earlier this season would feel pretty darn confident today. But, conversely, any Hurricane fan who happened to turn into the Apple Cup can’t be too worried either. But as the cliché goes, this isn’t those teams ... or something like that. The Miami team that lost to Clemson was dispirited, poorly led and without its quarterback. The WSU team that lost to Washington was just without its quarterback – OK, a few other key players were out as well – and that position means more to Mike Leach’s team than just about anyone else’s group. So don’t expect either school to play like it did in those awful blowout losses. Both teams are better than that – or they wouldn’t be in El Paso. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya will toss the ball around – if he’s upright. The Hurricanes could be without their starting right side of the offensive line and, as we’ve seen all season, Alex Grinch is a master at exploiting a weakness. Expect the Cougars to pressure Kaaya, shifting late up front – it's a WSU staple this season – to force the inexperienced Hurricane offensive linemen to react to a sudden change. College coaches like to emphasis there are two ways to play pass coverage: don’t let receivers get open or don’t give the quarterback enough time to find open receivers. The Cougars will lean heavily on the latter today, mainly because it is what they do. Sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage are a bread-and-honey of Grinch’s group and a missing offensive lineman or two has to help, right? But Miami doesn’t have a bunch of slow, plodding guys up front or at the skill positions. Never have, never will. They have the speed and athleticism to take advantage of mistakes by the defense so, if you are hoping for a dominating performance, the Cougars better not make many. But there is another side to the game. Can the Cougars move the ball against the Hurricane defense? The simple answer is yes. Easily. The way Miami defends plays right into Washington State’s usual game plan. Give up the underneath stuff in the passing game? Yep. Allow teams to run at will? Sure. If WSU doesn’t put at least four or five touchdowns on the board, then something is amiss. Unless turnovers rear their ugly head. That happened the last time the Cougars were playing, right? But that was when Luke Falk was out. His absence in the UW game was felt from the opening seconds and was, ultimately, the biggest difference in the contest. He will be out there today. As should Joe Dahl, the best offensive lineman in this game and the key to keeping Falk upright and safe. With that duo back, the Cougar offense should click and, as long as there is no repeat of the Stanford stalling, WSU should score more points than anyone on Miami’s schedule not named Clemson or North Carolina.

• So who wins? Do you really want me to tell you? If you do, I bet you opened your Christmas presents on Christmas Eve – or maybe even on Fesitivus. Don’t you want to watch in a few hours without knowing what’s going to happen? No? Really? OK, here it goes. Remember how the Cougars lost the New Mexico Bowl? Well, that’s not happening today. They won’t be ahead a bunch late. At least I don't believe they will. After settling for way too many field goals early (and that’s the Stanford disease we were referring to earlier), the Cougars will roar back in the second half, only to come up just short. Let’s say 30-29, Miami, and leave it at that.

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• WSU: There is a two-man S-R crew in Texas and they have a lot for you today. Jacob Thorpe has an advance of the game as well as the keys to a Washington State win. Jim Allen (this is a fix from earlier) also has video of what Mike Leach had to say in his press conference yesterday. Jacob teamed with Jim on this notebook. ... Jacob also had this piece in Friday’s paper while Jim has a story today on the Cougar fans in El Paso. ... The Times looks at the possible crowd and how Miami’s defense hopes to limit the Cougar passing attack. ... ESPN.com’s Pac-12 blog has three reasons why you should watch. ... The Miami Herald believes Miami will win and has some reasons why. ... It’s been a tumultuous season for the Hurricanes. ... UCLA and Washington also have bowl games today, with the Huskies in Texas as well. ... The WSU basketball team earned one win in Hawaii, defeating New Mexico yesterday in an early game. ... We have an addition to the Cougar coverage today, Jim Allen's key to a Miami victory

• Gonzaga: BYU finished up its holiday trip to Hawaii with a win over Northern Iowa.

• Whitworth: The Pirates will be in Las Vegas for a tournament and they received some ink this weekend.

• Empire: Jim Meehan had a Christmas Day story on the lineup coach Adam Shackleford is putting together.

• Seahawks: The Hawks are getting healthier heading into Sunday’s matchup with the always tough (for them) Rams. ... When Marshawn Lynch comes back, he’ll have to adjust to the new normal. ... Part of that new normal is throwing the ball to Jermaine Kearse a bit more. ... J.R. Sweezy is still learning his position. ... Fred Jackson had to deal with the logistics of getting his family to Seattle for Christmas.

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• If the Cougars win their bowl game today, you can thank me for not picking them. I’ve played the role of the reverse jinx all season – remember my pronouncement there is no way they could win at UCLA? – so there is a chance that streak could continue. We’ll see. I will join Matt Chazanow after the game – Derek Deis did the basketball in Hawaii this week – for the postgame call-in show. You can listen, I do believe, via the TuneIn Radio app or on the Eastern Washington stations of the Cougar radio network. Until then ...




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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