There are two versions of blame in the New Mexico Bowl, won by Colorado State. One version suggests Mike Leach simply took the wrong decisions and messed up when it came to clock management. The other ignores anything that happens off the field, and puts the blame on the Washington State players who fumbled the ball.
It comes down to three key moments in the game, and three points that would come to haunt Washington State at the very ending of the game. Up by 8 points with less than a minute to go, and Colorado State have no timeouts. Instead of taking a knee, Washington State go for the pass, as Mike Leach continues to shows his faith in Connor Halliday and disdain for anything resembling a running play. An incomplete pass stops the clock, which forces Washington State to punt. The Rams manage to squeeze a field goal in the dying moments of the first half, making it a 12 point game.
In the fourth quarter, Colorado State manage to bring the game back down to 15 points after the Cougars kept a safe distance. Halliday begins a drive with 2:52 left in the game on his own 18. Washington State advance 13 yards, before Jeremiah Laufasa is tackled by Shaquil Barrett and fumbles the ball. Colorado State recover, and get Kapri Gibbs into the end zone. They go for two, but fail to complete the conversion. However, the booth overturns the decisions on the field (rightfully so), tying the game at 45-45.
Washington State recover the kickoff, but Teondray Caldwell fumbles and loses the ball. Jason Roberts hits a 41-yard field goal to end the game, and give Colorado State the dramatic 48-45 win, with the three points Washington State were missing from the first half.
Who is to blame? Mike Leach doesn’t think his clock management or play calling had anything to do with it: Colorado State finished the game. We didn’t. They finished the game better than we did. The lesson to be learned from that is it doesn’t matter where you’re at. You need to go out and finish the game.
Connor Halliday put on quite a show, throwing for 410 yards and six touchdowns. He is the first quarterback in bowl history to throw for 6 touchdowns in a loss. He also had some sideline moments with Rams head coach Jim McElwain, who said something to Halliday after the quarterback was celebrating a successful throw very near the Rams. The two were separated, and Halliday later mentioned that McElwain grabbed him and said some profane things to him.
While Washingon State rushed for a -10 yards (on 19 carries), Colorado State were quite happy with Kapri Gibbs, who ran for 169 yards and scored three touchdowns. He became only the third running back in FBS history with 30 touchdowns in a season, and his 31 trail only Montee Ball with 33 in 2011 and Barry Sanders in 1988 with 37.
The ending was familiar in the New Mexico Bowl, as for the second straight season the winning team has scored at least 10 points in the final minute to win the game. Last year it was Arizona pulling off something similar against Nevada.