An offense that was already missing it’s top two running backs and both it’s starting tackles saw it’s No. 1 quarterback limp into the locker room at half and not return to the field of play in the second half. That left former walk on Victor Gabalis to helm a comeback attempt that fell just short in El Paso, Texas on New Years Eve as WSU (7-6) fell 21-24 to Central Michigan (9-4).
Gabalis finished the game with a completion percentage of 47.8% of his passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. The second of his touchdown passes gave the Chips their final margin of victory after it found Lincoln Victor at the goal line.
It was an impressive performance for the Archbishop High School alum in the freezing rain. While he struggled at time to find his wideouts, he faced a ton of pressure from CMU’s front seven. This was despite the fact that he’s not as mobile as starter Jayden de Laura.
The offense struggled mightily in the first half, and on its first two drives of the second. And the turnaround in the middle of the third quarter was spectacular.
It was still hard to watch as the offensive line struggled to provide protection against the Chippewa’s line. There was no run blocking to speak of to go along with the poor pass protection which hampered the offensive production. Which only makes the freshmen’s production even more impressive.
Heading into next season, it will be interesting to see how he stacks up on the depth chart. He’s played in a pair of games and had wildly different results. Against CMU he seems much more comfortable at this level than he did against the Trojans.
This brings the inconsistent run of the run and shoot offense on the Palouse. Gabalis performed admirably in press time, but we’ll see what happens with the former walk on as the Cougs transition back to the Air Raid.
The defensive adjustments were real
In the first quarter, the Cougar defense gave up 122 yards on 21 scoring plays in the first quarter. The final three quarters saw them give up 266 yards on 53 plays. After the Chips had shredded them through the air in the first frame, the Cougars forced them to run the ball.
While Central Michigan was able to run the ball effective, the offense had become one dimensional on the rain and it stalled. That was what allowed Washington State to climb back into the game. That was a huge adjustment by the defensive coaching staff and the players on the field; and they deserve the praise for that.
The biggest defensive play was arguably the interception by Travion Brown on CMU’s drive after Washington State’s first touchdown of the game. It got the Cougar offense the ball back inside the red zone with very little time burned off the clock.
It’s on to 2022 now
The end of the 2021 season came on the last day of the year. It marked the end of the wildest season for the Cougars that I can remember. With the drama around a selfish head coach — and four of his assistants — and the resulting media nightmare that followed, this squad still made it too a bowl game AND stomped Washington in the Apple Cup.
The Cougars head into 2022 with questions on the offensive line, and uncertainty surrounding the transfer portal. But the Air Raid is coming back and I’m extremely impressed with the early hires that head coach Jake Dickert have made to fill his staff. There is a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the direction of the program; but the February signing day will be key.