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WSU Cougars Football

Key players in Minnesota’s 17-12 Holiday Bowl win over WSU

Tue., Dec. 27, 2016, 9:26 p.m.

Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Rodney Smith (1) runs the ball against WSU during the second half of the 2016 National Funding Holiday Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Rodney Smith (1) runs the ball against WSU during the second half of the 2016 National Funding Holiday Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Game Ball Goes To …

Before Minnesota’s bowl practices began, sophomore running back Rodney Smith approached his coaches and offered to train with the defensive backs, so that he could help replace the suspended members of the Gophers’ secondary. Smith didn’t play on defense in the Holiday Bowl, but was a critical member of his team’s win. Smith rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown and added 57 kick return yards, providing critical points and field position in a defensive battle.

Offensive MVP …

Senior quarterback Mitch Leidner may not have set any passing records, completing 11-of-20 attempts for 129 yards and a score, but he came up big on key downs in a game when both teams struggled to put together offensive drives. Leidner rushed for 43 yards from scrimmage, putting the Gophers in more manageable down and distance situations, which made the WSU defense work just a little bit harder.

Defensive MVP …

Minnesota linebacker Blake Cashman had a difficult task in stopping an offense that averages more than 40 points per game while missing some key defensive teammates. But he and the remaining Gophers rose to the challenge, holding the Cougars out of the end zone until the game’s final moments. Cashman’s play was a key reason why WSU’s offense struggled. He was all over the field, making 12 tackles including a sack and one other tackle behind the line of scrimmage.



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