After winning just three games in 2016, Michigan State spent last winter at home dreaming of warmer climates. Thanks to an incredible turnaround during the regular season in 2017, the No. 16 Spartans spent this winter enjoying the warmer climates of San Diego as they thumped No. 18 Washington State 42-17 in the Holiday Bowl.
And things didn’t even seem anywhere as close as that final margin would indicate.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke played a big role in the reason why the game was largely uncompetitive with a performance that could earn him a place on more than a few Heisman Dark Horse lists for 2018. The sophomore had one of the best outings of the season under center and was one point with his passing on nearly every dropback in throwing for 213 yards and three touchdowns. While he may not look like a noted dual-threat at first glance, he also paced the team with his legs for most of the night and wound up with 73 yards rushing.
Tailback L.J. Scott chipped in with 110 on the ground and scored two rushing touchdowns, while Felton Davis (118 yards, one score) and Cody White (two TD’s) helped pace the skill position players in terms of effectiveness.
Though the Cougars did get the offense clicking later in the game, they were behind the chains from the opening kickoff with sophomore Tyler Hilinski making his first career start behind center. Record-setting quarterback Luke Falk was one the sidelines in street clothes for the game but couldn’t make it back in time from a wrist injury he suffered in the Apple Cup.
Hilinski did make several nice throws down the field over the course of the game but was mostly forced to dink-and-dunk all night on his way to 272 yards, an interception and a pair of touchdowns. Several three-and-outs early put his defense in a bind however and a fumble in the third quarter that was converted into another touchdown seemed to be the back-breaker. The loss puts a damper on what was still an overall successful year for the Cougs but adds to the questions about the program going forward with a number of key players gone for 2018 and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch reportedly headed to Ohio State in January.
The same could not be said of the Spartans, which capped a seven-win turnaround this year and have plenty of momentum (and returning starters) as they return to East Lansing for the new year. While we tend to over-inflate bowl victories when it comes to the preseason outlook on some teams, the way that MSU has trended this year bodes well for them in what should be a rough and tumble Big Ten in 2018 that will likely have Mark Dantonio‘s squad right back in the thick of the title race again.