LEWISTON – “I’m not Gardner.”
While there wasn’t any discernible malice or irritation in Gage Gubrud’s voice when the quarterback uttered those three words after Washington State’s fifth fall practice – and fourth at Lewiston’s Sacajawea Junior High – there may have been just a small trace of fatigue – intentional or otherwise.
While Tuesday marked Gubrud’s first group interview as a signal-caller for WSU since joining up with the Cougars in February, the Eastern Washington transfer has already been asked a few dozen times about the man and mustache he’s trying to replace, and probably prepped himself for the questions a fewdozen more.
Nobody who matters realistically expects Gubrud to mirror Gardner Minshew – his record-shattering numbers, or his affable personality – but there’s still something to be said for setting the record straight.
“They look at it and how much success a grad transfer had last year and it gets really exciting, and everyone wants to make a story on another grad transfer coming in,” Gubrud said. “Oh, could it be the same? Could it be worse? We’re all different people. It’s a new team. Nothing we did last year as a team matters for this year.
“I don’t lead the same way as Gardner, I don’t throw the ball the same way as Gardner. So they’re all different things, and Gardner’s a great quarterback, but we go about things differently.”
No, the Cougars don’t expect Gubrud to grow out his facial hair, or adopt any other Minshewisms for that matter. While they wouldn’t mind another hallmark passing season from whoever replaces the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, they’d prefer their latest grad transfer do things his own way.
When the pass rush looked to envelope him, Gubrud often slipped away from the harm and found a receiver downfield or chewed up the real estate with his feet.
WSU’s signal-callers aren’t “live” during fall camp, so the defensive linemen generally pump their brakes once they get into the backfield, at times making it hard to distinguish a sack from a positive gain. But even during the watered-down “team periods,” Gubrud has found opportunities to display his unique improvisation, reaffirming he hasn’t lost a step since fracturing a toe playing for the Eagles last fall, and suffering a foot/ankle injury prior to spring camp in Pullman this March.
On Saturday, when a botched snap rolled to his feet, the QB coolly fielded the ball before rolling left out of the pocket and throwing to Dezmon Patmon on the run for a touchdown.
During Monday’s team period, Gubrud slipped through a crack in the pass rush with the defense blitzing, and stepped into a long throw to Renard Bell, who made the catch for 60-plus yards.
“He brings another element to the game,” WSU nose tackle Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei said. “You’ve got to watch out for the run or the pass as well. He’s a good player.”
Many have pegged Gubrud as a favorite to win WSU’s QB battle solely based on career reps and accolades, but coach Mike Leach vowed to make it an honest three-man battle. So far, all three have produced both highlights and errors, but Leach is no closer to making a decision on his starter than he was five days ago.
“We’re kind of accumulating data, information, evaluation,” Leach said Tuesday. “You see something every day, and the biggest thing is who’s consistent. You try to develop a level of consistency, and that’s what you’re really working toward.”
If it makes things easier, Gubrud has a wealth of receivers at his disposal. That was also the case at EWU, where over the course of his three seasons the QB threw passes to Cooper Kupp, Kendrick Bourne, Shaq Hill and Nsimba Webster. But WSU’s current group, all of its parts accounted for, is easily the deepest Gubrud has played with.
“There’s no drop-off with guys,” Gubrud said. “We’ve got 10, 11, 12 – however many you want to say – really good receivers. It’s unfortunate sometimes, because not all of them get to play. You usually can only play with four at a time, and every once in a while you put five in.”
Gubrud said he’s still adjusting to the speed of play and the tempo of Pac-12 practices. That’s no knock on the Eagles, he insists, but “it’s just every day it’s a little bit faster and guys are one step quicker, so you’ve got to be that much sharper with your reads.”
Other variances between EWU and WSU? The resources a player has at the FBS level are vastly different – and more plentiful – than they are in the FCS.
The Cougars employ a full-time chef inside their football complex, so players rarely are scrounging for food – or the right food.
“We get fed really well. Chef Raul (Vera) takes care of us.” Gubrud said. “So that’s the biggest thing, because at Eastern you get a meal plan, or whatever it is, and you’re eating what everyone else eats in the student body. Here you get all this great food, and if you need to gain weight, all the resources are there. If you need to lose weight or maintain, all the resources are there for you.”
The quarterback and his teammates feasted on crab legs the day they reported back to campus for fall camp.
“We get crab legs, surf and turf, all that stuff,” Gubrud said.
Life is good for Gubrud, even after multiple injuries and a stressful, strenuous transfer saga. Depending on the data and information the Cougars accumulate from him over the next few weeks, it could get even better.