Minnesota outlasts Washington State in sloppy Holiday Bowl

SAN DIEGO -- There was a time when the National Funding Holiday Bowl could be counted on to produce games to remember. It paired high-powered offenses that lit up the scoreboard and left onlookers satisfied with what took place.

Minnesota's 17-12 win against Washington State on Tuesday was not that.

Both defenses deserve credit for their roles in the third-lowest-scoring Holiday Bowl in the game's 39-year history, but let's call it what it was: horrible offense.

Washington State (8-5), which came into the game averaging 40.3 points and 497.6 yards of offense per game, managed 303 yards, but that number feels deceiving, considering 76 of those yards came on the first drive and another 79 came on what amounted to a garbage-time touchdown drive.

Again, Minnesota (9-4) deserves credit for devising a defensive game plan that prevented WSU from finding any sort of rhythm, but the Cougars played like a disinterested team that still hadn't recovered from the back-to-back losses that ended their regular season.

Just a day earlier, WSU coach Mike Leach said prolific junior quarterback Luke Falk would put the NFL on hold and return for his senior season, but Falk didn't resemble a player with a professional future. He completed 30-of-51 passes for 264 yards and was completely out of sync aside from the first and last drives.

Falk's poor performance also came against a depleted Minnesota secondary that was without two starters and two key reserves. Those players -- Antoine Winfield Jr., KiAnte Hardin, Ray Buford Jr. and Antonio Shenault -- were among the 10 players Minnesota suspended for the game as a result of a pending sexual assault investigation conducted by the school.

After the suspensions levied by the school and the players' threat of a boycott that followed, the result will be a welcomed distraction for Minnesota, but it will do very little to erase what has been a tumultuous couple of weeks.

Offensively, the Gophers weren't any better than their counterparts from the Pac-12. Minnesota managed just 280 yards of offense. Consider this: The game's offensive MVP was Gophers running back Rodney Smith, who ran for 74 yards on 17 carries with a long of 10.

Minnesota linebacker Blake Cashman was named the game's defensive MVP after registering 12 tackles and one sack.