EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – After much back-and-forth over the game would or could even be held, the 88th Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl is on as scheduled for New Year’s Eve.
Central Michigan will replace Miami (COVID-19 cases) in the game and square off with Washington State. After the new matchup was first reported by KTSM on Monday, both teams were on the practice field on Tuesday, with about 72 hours to prepare for an entirely new opponent.
Washington State (7-5) and Central Michigan (8-4) have never squared off on the gridiron; coaches for both teams worked late into the night to develop new game plans for Friday’s showdown in El Paso.
It certainly won’t be easy, especially with two red-hot teams entering the Sun Bowl. The Cougars won four of their last six games to end the regular season; the Chippewas rattled off four straight victory. The condensed timeframe to prepare for the game is the shortest in the career of Cougars head coach Jake Dickert.
“This is going to be a challenge, especially on short notice,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said Tuesday after practice at Eastwood High School. “(CMU) is a good football team coming in, and one that’ll be extremely motivated. We’ll have to match that type of energy right from kickoff. Everyone wants to be a professional. This is like an (NFL) Sunday to Thursday game.”
While Washington State is in El Paso already, Central Michigan is still in Tucson, Ariz., where the Chippewas and head coach Jim McElwain were slated to play Boise State in the Arizona Bowl, before the Broncos had to withdraw due to COVID-19 cases on Monday. CMU practiced at the University of Arizona’s football stadium on Tuesday and will again on Wednesday.
The Chippewas will then travel to El Paso on Thursday, in advance of Friday’s 10 a.m. kickoff. However, CMU’s equipment truck had already made the move east on I-10 on Tuesday night.
Central Michigan out of the MAC leans on an offense that averages over 30 points per game. Running back Lew Nichols led the nation in rushing in the regular season.
“They do a lot of good things. They have a good running back, a great offensive line. The quarterback makes plays. It should be a great game on Friday,” said WSU safety George Hicks II.
Back on the practice field for WSU on Tuesday was starting quarterback Jayden de Laura. The Hawaii native did not arrive in El Paso with the rest of the Cougars on Sunday, as he had travel issues getting from Seattle to the Sun City.
de Laura missed the Cougs’ first practice in El Paso on Monday, but didn’t miss much when it came to a game plan, because Central Michigan had not yet been announced as the opponent. de Laura is the Pac-12’s passing leader and its reigning offensive freshman of the year.
“He got caught in the Seattle snow, so it was good to have him,” Dickert said. “He’s been on planes the last three days. I thought he looked sharp. He’ll wear some of the rust off. Sometimes, as a quarterback, after a long season it’s good to have a little bit of a break. He’s our emotional leader, he’s our playmaker. It’s different around here when he’s out there playing.”
With Sun Bowl officials making preparations for the game on Tuesday and the rest of the week, the Chippewas and Cougars are doing the same. Kickoff is set for 10 a.m. Friday at the Sun Bowl.