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Analysis: Anthony Gordon dazzles as No. 23 Washington State routs New Mexico State 58-7

Washington State Cougars quarterback Anthony Gordon (18) smiles and high-fives fans after defeating the New Mexico State Aggies during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, August 31, 2019, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. WSU won the game 58-7. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – There was plenty of hype and hoopla around Washington State’s wide receiving corps this offseason. Sophomore running back Max Borghi drew an expected amount of preseason praise. The offensive line, most believed, could be superb once again despite losing an All-American left tackle.

On Saturday night, Anthony Gordon provided an answer to the only question that seemingly remained about the Cougars’ offense.

Can Mike Leach uncover another diamond at quarterback?

Gordon, making the first start of his career, completed his first 15 passes and finished 29 of 35 with 420 yards and five touchdowns against an underwhelming New Mexico State defense, leading the Cougars to a 58-7 blowout victory in the season opener at Martin Stadium, played in front of 27,228 fans.

Borghi was his dynamic self, rushing 10 times for 128 yards and a touchdown and catching two passes for 11 yards. Borghi’s first career 100-yard game also made him the first WSU running back to eclipse 100 yards since Gerard Wicks ran for 128 against California in 2016.

The Cougars started slow on defense, conceding a touchdown on the Aggies’ second drive of the game, but regrouped to pitch a shutout for the final 51 minutes. Tracy Claeys’ unit held NMSU to just 317 total yards of offense and forced three turnovers.

“Thought it was pretty complete, could have been sharper on offense late in the game,” Leach said. “Early in the game we could have been sharper on defense. Everybody had a lot of energy and excitement, but their tempo might have thrown us out of sync slightly, and then guys try to do too much, but when they settled in I thought they played real well.”

Fifteen of Gordon’s relatives made the trek from Northern California and five of the quarterback’s friends made an impromptu decision Friday night to drive 14 hours from Pacifica to the Palouse, where the redshirt senior put on an impressive aerial show for his family members, pals and thousands of Cougar fans who had never seen Gordon threw a pass.

Five plays into his first start, the strong-armed quarterback had his first career touchdown. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Rodrick Fisher won a footrace with his defender and reeled in a spiral from Gordon for a 41-yard touchdown – also the first of the career for the Spokane native and East Valley High graduate.

Gordon didn’t even need that long on his second touchdown. On the third play of the drive, Gordon threw to Dezmon Patmon on a crossing route. The big, tall wide receiver caught the ball in the middle of the field and raced to the end zone for a 48-yard score, capping a drive that lasted just one minute, 13 seconds.

“There’s a clarity to how he runs the huddle,” Leach said of Gordon. “He did a really good job putting them in the end zone. There wasn’t kind of that first-game stuff where somebody’s afraid to make a mistake. He put them in the end zone right away.”

WSU’s new starter also hit Travell Harris and Easop Winston Jr. for touchdowns. Eleven players caught passes for the Cougars, but Patmon led the unit with seven catches for 103 yards, while Harris had four catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns.

The small, speedy “H” receiver turned in the highlight of the night, hauling in a short swing pass from Gordon before darting down the left sideline, then switching course, cutting across the field to finish off the 20-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

“There’s a lot of yards after catch that helped me out a lot,” Gordon said. “So it was all of us as a unit, altogether.”

In total, the Cougars produced 618 yards of offense. WSU has gone over the 600-yard mark just 25 other times in school history, and Saturday’s effort tied for 19th on the all-time chart.

When Gordon’s day was done, Eastern Washington graduate transfer Gage Gubrud entered and led the offense on a 10-play, 90-yard scoring drive, hitting Renard Bell for a nine-yard touchdown. Gubrud completed 9 of 11 passes for 76 yards and Trey Tinsley was 1-for-3 for 11 yards.