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Anthony Gordon named WSU’s starting quarterback for season opener

UPDATED: Sat., Aug. 24, 2019, 9 p.m.

Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon throws during a practice on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, at Rogers Field in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon throws during a practice on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, at Rogers Field in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Anthony Gordon spent three years paying his dues and sharpening his skills at Washington State.

In an era when quarterbacks often aren’t willing to wait their turn, patience paid off for the redshirt senior.

WSU coach Mike Leach confirmed Saturday afternoon what most already suspected: Gordon, the City College of San Francisco transfer who spent the past three seasons behind Luke Falk and Gardner Minshew, will get the starting nod when the Cougars host New Mexico State at 7 p.m. next Saturday.

Leach has refrained from naming his starting QB in the past. Last year the coach was tight-lipped when asked about the competition between Minshew, Gordon and Trey Tinsley, not giving many clues as to which of the three would be taking the first snaps of the season against Wyoming.

But the coach offered an early hint last Sunday that Gordon was his front-runner, telling reporters, “If we played today, we’d play (him),” while still leaving a sliver of a possibility he could change his mind over the course of week by adding, “but we’ve got some time, too.”

Gordon took about two-thirds of the QB reps during WSU practice last week. Leach gave a decisive answer Saturday when asked if he planned to start Gordon against the Aggies.

“Yes,” the coach replied.

Gordon outlasted Tinsley, a fellow JC transfer who joined the Cougars the same year he did. More impressive, he beat out former Eastern Washington signal-caller Gage Gubrud, a dual-threat QB who was one of the most dynamic players at the FCS level before an injury derailed his final season with the Eagles.

Gubrud received a waiver from the NCAA to gain a sixth year of eligibility, but a second injury sustained during the team’s “Midnight Maneuvers” winter conditioning program kept him out of spring workouts.

Gordon, meanwhile, excelled in the spring and didn’t drop off when the Cougars regrouped for fall camp, improving his command of the offense, cutting out interceptions and producing explosive plays during WSU’s scrimmage-like “team periods.”

“Some of it started in the spring, I think,” Leach said. “(Gordon) had a really good spring and then he really didn’t break stride from spring till camp. So he was very steady in camp. Steady, but also explosive.”

While Gubrud carried a more impressive résumé into WSU’s QB competition, the sixth-year senior didn’t show the same level of execution and comprehension of Leach’s Air Raid offense during fall camp. Leach gave the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Gordon an edge after the team’s second scrimmage, telling reporters, “I thought (Gordon) was better.”

Initially, Leach was dividing QB reps between all three players – Tinsley included – which meant Gordon was sitting out every third day. Once Leach narrowed down the competition to two players, Gordon found it easier to maintain a rhythm knowing he’d be in the rotation every day.

“It definitely grooves your mind to be ready every day,” Gordon said. “Having an off day, it’s not technically an off day because you’re still taking mental reps throwing the ball, but knowing I’m going to get reps most of the days, it’s helped me with my mindset.”

Gordon has made two game appearances in his career, replacing Minshew in blowout wins of San Jose State and Colorado last season. His career stat line reads: 3-for-5 passing, 17 yards, one interception.

But now that he’s the starting quarterback in an offense known to produce big passing numbers, Gordon will have a chance to accumulate yards and touchdowns at a fast pace. WSU’s past three starting quarterbacks – Minshew (2018), Falk (2014-17) and Connor Halliday (2012-14) – are responsible for four of the top six passing seasons in Pac-12 Conference history, and each holds a conference record.

Halliday’s 734 passing yards against Cal in 2014 were the most in a single game by a Pac-12 quarterback. Falk owns the conference record for career passing yards, with 14,481, and Minshew’s 4,779 yards set the single-season record in 2018.

As a true freshman at CCSF – the junior college that also produced WSU players Shalom Luani, Robert Taylor, Easop Winston Jr., Robert Valencia and Derrick Langford – Gordon threw for a CCCAA-leading 3,864 yards and 37 touchdowns. He’s also the single-season passing leader at his high school, Pacifica’s Terra Nova, and in the Central Coast Section, with 4,899 passing yards and 49 touchdowns – both set during his senior season.

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