2015 Sun Bowl: Game Grades for Miami vs. Washington State

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2015

Mike Leach and Washington State took an important Sun Bowl win over Miami Saturday.
Mike Leach and Washington State took an important Sun Bowl win over Miami Saturday.Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

It was anything but easy, but that won’t matter much to Mike Leach and Washington State. The Cougars grabbed their first bowl win since 2003, snagging a pair of key fourth-quarter turnovers (including a Mark Walton fumble at their own 5-yard line) to survive with a 20-14 Sun Bowl victory over Miami.

Washington State capped a turnaround season, going from 3-9 last fall to 9-4 this season. Miami finished 8-5 under interim coach Larry Scott and now awaits new coach Mark Richt’s next moves in turning around the program.

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk had a bit of an off day in snowy conditions, but he still completed 29 of 53 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns. The Cougars generated three turnovers and largely held Miami standout sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya in check. Kaaya completed 17 of 31 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Washington State Game Grades
Positional UnitFirst-Half GradeSecond-Half Grade
Pass OffenseB+C
Run OffenseB-B-
Pass DefenseA-B+
Run DefenseB+B+
Special TeamsBB
CoachingA-A-
Vs. Miami

Pass Offense: In his first game back in the lineup after missing the Apple Cup with a concussion, Falk wasn’t perfect, but he was efficient. He was held under 300 yards for just the third time this season, but he wasn’t intercepted, either. He threw a strike of a 25-yard touchdown to Gabe Marks and connected with 11 different receivers.

Run Offense: The ground game is not Washington State’s forte; the Cougars entered averaging just 80 rushing yards per game, worst in the FBS. They finished with 87 yards on 25 carries, and Jamal Morrow was efficient with 71 yards on 10 carries. And Falk iced the game with a scramble for the game’s final first down with just over a minute to play.

Pass Defense: Kaaya entered averaging 293.3 passing yards per game in his last four games, but he never looked comfortable against the Cougars defense. Washington State's defensive line consistently harassed him, and Peyton Pelluer’s tip-drill end-zone interception was one of the biggest plays of the day.

Run Defense: Miami never found holes against Washington State’s line, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. The Hurricanes had 114 yards on the ground, and 60 of those came on one Braxton Berrios carry.

Special Teams: Erik Powell was perfect, making both of his field goals, and Zach Charme averaged 36.8 yards per punt in challenging, nasty conditions.

Coaching: Mike Leach wasn’t afraid to take chances, going for it on fourth down multiple times in the first half and consistently keeping Miami off guard. He was rewarded with his ninth win and some much-deserved stability as the Cougars’ head coach.

Miami Game Grades
Positional UnitFirst-Half GradeSecond-Half Grade
Pass OffenseCC
Run OffenseC-C
Pass DefenseB+B+
Run DefenseBB
Special TeamsCC
CoachingCD
Vs. Washington State

Pass Offense: Brad Kaaya had an excellent November, averaging 293.3 passing yards per game and throwing five touchdowns against two interceptions. But he had one of his worst games of the season against the Cougars’ pass defense. Joseph Yearby’s ill-advised halfback pass slipped out of his hands and led to a game-clinching interception.

Run Offense: Washington State has a poor run defense that allows 199 rushing yards per game, No. 99 nationally. But Miami couldn’t gash it, save Braxton Berrios’ 60-yard run that set up the Hurricanes’ final touchdown. The team had just 114 yards on 29 carries. Joseph Yearby had 63 yards on 14 carries. Mark Walton’s fumble at the Washington State 5-yard line late in the fourth quarter was an absolute killer.

Pass Defense: Luke Falk entered fourth nationally in passing yards, but Miami contained him pretty well, holding him to 295 yards on 53 attempts. There are areas where things went wrong for the Hurricanes, but this was not one of them.

Run Defense: Washington State does not treat the run as a priority, and Miami kept it that way. The Cougars carried 25 times for 87 yards, seven yards above their FBS-worst average of 80 per game. However, letting the pass-first Falk scramble for the game’s final first down is inexcusable.

Special Teams: Punter Justin Vogel had an up-and-down day, punting seven times for a 37.6-yard average, although he did shank a punt out of bounds for a 23-yard gain that gave the Cougars excellent field position. Miami’s return game, led by Berrios, was solid, and Michael Badgley, who didn’t have a chance to attempt a field goal, made both of his extra-point tries.

Coaching: Larry Scott has done an admirable job as Miami’s interim head coach, but Saturday wasn’t his finest day. The Hurricanes looked out of sorts on several fourth downs, forcing Scott to call timeouts and sort out personnel. And they were undisciplined, committing nine penalties for 98 yards. That included a key clipping penalty that wiped out what would have been a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Ouch.

Related

    Heisman Odds: Joe Burrow Jumps to Favorite with Jalen Hurts Post Tua Injury

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Heisman Odds: Joe Burrow Jumps to Favorite with Jalen Hurts Post Tua Injury

    Scott Polacek
    via Bleacher Report

    Saban Says There's No Timetable for Tua's Return

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Saban Says There's No Timetable for Tua's Return

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: FSU to Target Urban Meyer If Willie Taggart Gets Fired

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Report: FSU to Target Urban Meyer If Willie Taggart Gets Fired

    Scott Polacek
    via Bleacher Report

    Mark Richt Suffers a Heart Attack

    College Football logo
    College Football

    Mark Richt Suffers a Heart Attack

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report