PULLMAN – Washington State’s Air Raid offense may get most of the attention but the Cougars’ defense held San Jose State to the fewest yards of any opponent for the past 24 years.
New quarterback Gardner Minshew said he appreciated his defensive teammates continually returning the ball to the offense in the 31-0 Cougar victory on Saturday at Martin Stadium. Overall, the defense limited the Spartans to 109 total yards, including not enough rushing yards (9) to earn a single first down.
It’s the fewest yards allowed under coach Mike Leach and the fourth-fewest yards allowed in program history. The last time the Cougars held an opponent to fewer yards were 97 yards gained by Oregon in 1994 in a 21-7 WSU win.
“I know how that’s how they expect to play,” Minshew said of the defense. “I don’t think you can do better than zero.”
As Minshew slashed San Jose defenders for 414 passing yards and three touchdowns, the defense harassed Spartan quarterback Montel Aaaron with five sacks en route to the shutout.
“I thought defensively, I felt we played very well for the better part of three-and-a-half quarters,” Leach said. “Anytime you get a shutout, it doesn’t matter who you get the shutout against, that’s a fantastic effort.”
Leach credited the play of the revamped defensive line. It was the first game for Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei, a junior-college transfer who just became eligible after the Wyoming game. He recorded his first career sack against SJSU.
“I thought the defensive line, especially once they got warmed up, did a good job of affecting the quarterback,” Leach said. “I thought that the secondary was fairly solid all night. I really only saw three balls or so where I felt like, ‘Geez, that’s a good thing they didn’t complete that.’”
Overall, the defense recorded five sacks, which was the most since the eight they racked up against Utah last season.
One of the sacks was recorded by Dominick Silvels, a 6-3, 230-sophomore linebacker who coaches moved to the Rush position during fall camp.
“They told me they were going to move me,” Silvels said. “I’m all for that. I just want to get on the field and help my team out. I know that I can beat a lot of big guys with my speed.”
Justus Rogers, 6-2, 230-pound redshirt sophomore, said the defense came into the game focusing on stopping San Jose’s run game.
“It’s always a good feeling knowing that you can stop the run,” he said. “That’s what we did. That’s just a testament to everywhere from D-line to the secondary, outside backers, inside backers, just the whole unit. I think we executed all over the field to make that happen.”
Rogers, who had three tackles including a sack, said the team fed off the energy of the 26,141 fans who attended the Cougars’ first home game.
“Home games in general are always fun because the crowd gets into it with you and you know they are rooting for you,” he said.
Still, Rogers said he believes Washington State’s best defensive effort is yet to come.
“I think I can speak for everybody on the team when I say we are not satisfied with that,” Rogers said. “I’m pretty sure we can do better.”