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Washington State’s consistency pays off in Alamo Bowl victory over Iowa State

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 29, 2018, 10:08 p.m.

Washington State  quarterback Gardner Minshew  is hoisted by  offensive lineman Liam Ryan  after the Cougars defeated the Iowa State Cyclones 28-26 on  Friday at the Alamo Bowl  in San Antonio. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew is hoisted by offensive lineman Liam Ryan after the Cougars defeated the Iowa State Cyclones 28-26 on Friday at the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

SAN ANTONIO – There probably wasn’t quite enough scoring on either end of Friday’s Alamo Bowl to coin the game a “Texas Shootout.”

But, in another respect, maybe the term is actually somewhat apropos as it relates to Washington State’s 28-26 victory over Iowa State in the Alamodome.

While the Cougars played a relatively clean and error-free game, far too often the Cyclones were firing bullets into their feet.

From Matt Campbell’s perspective in the postgame interview room, that’s what caused Iowa State to concede the Alamo Bowl to Mike Leach and the Cougars, who weren’t perfect by any means but limited their mistakes throughout the game and, most important, didn’t make many of them when it counted.

“We had to learn how to be consistent, we had to learn to prove that we could win with consistency here at Iowa State,” said Campbell, the third-year ISU coach who’s considered one of the top up-and-comers in the coaching world. “Now to take the next step in this program, it’s detail, and it’s really what got us tonight, really in all three phases of the game.”

In the weeks leading up to the bowl, Campbell spoke with high regard, and high praise, for the man who’d be coaching opposite him. Friday’s game, although it was decided by two points, displayed how far the Cougars have come in seven years under Leach, and how much room the Cyclones have to grow under the 39-year-old Campbell.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Leach and Washington State,” Campbell said. “They didn’t make those mistakes, and ultimately they won the football game.”

Granted, you wouldn’t call the Cougars squeaky clean.

WSU mounted some offensive momentum on the first drive of the game, but running back James Williams didn’t secure the ball tightly after on a 13-yard reception, and ISU’s Brian Peavy tracked him down to poke the ball out and give the Cyclones possession.

Marcus Strong would’ve taken a mulligan, too. Later in the quarter, the cornerback returned an interception 71 yards the other direction, but his touchdown was negated for taunting, forcing WSU’s offense back onto the field.

But by and large, the Cougars avoided the constant errors that buried the Cyclones early and late.

“Big kickoff return right before half, some silly mistakes in the pass game early,” Campbell said. “Obviously, a tough fumble, and then some missed tackles early in the football game, and I think it comes down to that.”

The Cyclones drew 10 penalties to the Cougars’ six. Iowa State was flagged seven times – and at least once in each quarter – for false starts. Three of those came on the same drive late in the fourth quarter.

“I really think the noise was a major factor, and especially for our young center, who has played really good football for us,” Campbell said. “We tried to do some different things to help him out throughout the game, but it certainly got really loud in there at times, so I think just handling the environment more than anything, especially as those environments continue to escalate with the noise.”

ISU quarterback Brock Purdy threw two interceptions in the opening quarter. Running back David Montgomery fumbled in the fourth, giving Gardner Minshew and the Cougars a short field at the Cyclones’ 30-yard line. ISU’s third turnover led directly to a fourth WSU touchdown.

The Cyclones collected two more penalties, and multiple disqualifications, on targeting calls in the second quarter. Both of those errors, coupled with an unsportsmanlike penalty on ISU’s head coach – visibly frustrated with the second targeting penalty – extended eventual WSU touchdown drives.

“My frustration during the football game was just getting an explanation,” Campbell said. “Now, I should be better than that, but really didn’t get any in those unfortunate situations.”

One fewer targeting penalty may have lifted ISU in the Alamo Bowl. Instead, a few-dozen mental errors buried the Cyclones against a Cougars team not willing to make nearly that many.

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