Maybe it isn’t sufficient to pick out a single highlight from each game Gardner Minshew played in a Washington State uniform this season.
Some quarterbacks need four years to manufacture the type of highlight reel or compile the type of statistical résumé Minshew built in just 13 games as WSU’s starter. Granted, the graduate transfer may have waited that long for his opportunity, but once he got it, Minshew never wavered.
In one year, the Brandon, Mississippi, native blossomed into a Heisman Trophy candidate, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner, the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and the conference record-holder for single-season passing yards.
Now that the most productive season by a Washington State quarterback is over, it’s time to look back at some of its highlights. Here are 13 of them – one from each game he played in – displaying a year’s worth of Minshew excellence.
1. Washington State at Wyoming
The play: 2-yard touchdown to James Williams
The first of many. The Minshew era at WSU was only about 12 minutes old when the new starter uncorked his first touchdown. Two personal foul penalties on Wyoming gave the Cougars 30 yards and the running backs – Max Borghi and James Williams – ran for 17 and 18 yards to put the offense inside the 5-yard line. Minshew scooted out of the pocket, then threw off his back foot to Williams, who made an acrobatic mid-air catch before tapping his left tow inside the end zone to complete the play. There were two more TD passes for Minshew that day in Laramie and 35 more throughout the remainder of the season.
(play at :18)
2. San Jose State at Washington State
The play: 1-yard touchdown run
Zone read? In the Air Raid? It isn’t the first option in Mike Leach’s playbook and it was a foreign concept during the Luke Falk era at WSU. But Minshew called his own number in the second quarter against San Jose State to put the Cougars up 24-0. Inches from the goal line, the quarterback motioned a handoff to Borghi, then pulled the ball back into his arms as five Spartans leapt at the freshman running back. Minshew beat one more defender to the end zone for the second of four rushing touchdowns he’d score on the year.
(play at 1:35)
3. Eastern Washington at Washington State
The play: 26-yard pass to Dezmon Patmon
The Cougars had essentially put the Eagles away by the fourth quarter, and an intermediate throw to Patmon wasn’t terribly important in the grand scheme of things. But the precision and touch Minshew showed on a 26-yard toss was impressive. He looked off three receiving options to his left with a pump-fake, then opened up his body and went right to Patmon, who was streaking down the sideline, with a spiral only the 6-foot-5 “Z” receiver could reach. Tightly covered, Patmon gripped the ball out of the air and got four more yards before being tugged down.
(play at 2:42)
4. Washington State at USC
The play: 4-yard touchdown pass to Easop Winston Jr.
He’d lament a few missed opportunities in a 39-36 loss to the Trojans, but Minshew’s personal line was still impressive: 37-of-52 passing, 344 yards, three touchdowns. The score had already changed four times when Minshew worked some hocus pocus magic in the pocket for his third TD of the game and second to Winston, which would give the Cougars a 37-31 edge. With no options to his right, the QB scrambled left, made one defender whiff then shuffled away from another before finessing a pass to Winston in the back left corner of the end zone.
(play at 6:02)
5. Utah at Washington State
The play: 89-yard touchdown pass to Winston
Winston hauled in 17 passes from Minshew for 357 yards over a three-game stretch in late September/early October – none of them more consequential than the 89-yard catch-and-run that allowed the Cougars to beat the Utes 28-24 in a tense back-and-forth game at Martin Stadium. Minshew’s offense lined up at the left hash, giving Winston enough real estate to beat his cover, Utah corner Julian Blackmon, before he reached the sideline. Minshew’s pass soared over the top of Blackmon and fell into Winston’s hands. Corrion Ballard attempted to close down Winston’s lane, but the receiver cut inside forcing the Utes safety to bite, then jolted back to the sideline and legged out the game-winner.
(play at :35)
6. Washington State at Oregon State
The play: 38-yard touchdown pass to Tay Martin
Minshew had already developed a connection with Washington State’s top returning receiver when fall camp opened. On day one, he told reporters, “Throwing the ball to Tay Martin, that’s pretty easy,” and it sure looked that way on a 119-yard, two-touchdown day for the sophomore receiver in Corvallis. The highlight came early in the second quarter when Minshew bombed a pass to Martin down the left sideline, who made an impressive basket catch with OSU’s Kaleb Hayes draped over him. The Cougars took a 21-14 lead and cruised to a 56-37 win.
(play at 2:47)
7. Oregon at Washington State
The play: 37-yard pass to Travell Harris
After trailing 27-0 in the first half, the Ducks had tightened the gap to seven points with under seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter when Minshew, always one to store faith in his receivers, floated up a deep pass to Harris in double coverage. Oregon safety Jevon Holland initially clamped the ball, but the shorter, smaller Harris stripped it before somersaulting over Holland to the ground. Minshew fired a touchdown pass to Patmon a few plays later to seal WSU’s fourth straight win over Oregon. Students poured onto the turf and the “Mississippi Mustache” was carried off as a hero.
(play at 3:58)
8. Washington State at Stanford
The play: 35-yard pass to Jamire Calvin
Deservedly, the game’s hero was Blake Mazza, who was responsible for knocking in the game-winning 42-yard field goal. But while Mazza delivered the decisive kick, it couldn’t have happened without a decisive throw from Minshew. The Cougars had third-and-2 from their own 25-yard line when their QB spotted a small window and dialed up a pass to Calvin on a seam route over the middle. With two Stanford defensive backs in the area – one in front of Calvin and one behind him – an underthrown or overthrown pass may have been picked off. Instead, WSU moved the chains with a long completion and Mazza’s toe won the game a few plays later.
(play at 1:38)
9. California at Washington State
The play: 10-yard touchdown pass to Winston
If Minshew and Winston hadn’t already cemented their status as the Pac-12’s best fourth-quarter QB-WR duo, the senior signal-caller and his junior receiver did it with 32 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a defensive stalemate against Cal. It was as simple as pitch-and-catch gets – Winston broke past his defender and Minshew dropped his pass into the bucket to give the Cougars the go-ahead touchdown.
(play at 8:25)
10. Arizona at Washington State
The play: 9-yard touchdown pass to Winston
Amid a season of dizzying passing numbers, Minshew hit a new milestone when Arizona came to town for a chilly mid-November game. The quarterback already had six passing touchdowns – two to Calvin Jackson Jr., one to Patmon, one to Calvin, one to Martin and one to Williams – when he unleashed his seventh midway through the fourth quarter. Minshew bided his time in the pocket before lasering a pass to Winston on a crossing pattern to set the school’s single-game TD record. Seventh heaven? Indeed.
(play at 3:41)
11. Washington State at Colorado
The play: 10-yard touchdown run
The Buffaloes dropped eight players into coverage on second-and-10 from the 9-yard line, so Minshew turned to his instincts. And his moves. After sitting in the pocket briefly, the QB broke away and scampered to his right. His first obstacle, Dante Wigley, bit on a pump fake, giving Minshew the first down. Rick Gamboa was in position to make the tackle, but the QB used a hesitation move to evade Colorado’s All-Pac-12 linebacker. Minshew couldn’t sneak his feet into the end zone, but he reached the ball in to make it 24-7.
(play at 1:33)
12. Washington at Washington State
The play: 7-yard pass to Calvin Jackson Jr.
There weren’t many offensive highlights for WSU in a sixth consecutive Apple Cup loss and there were even fewer for Minshew, who passed for just 152 yards. There were no touchdowns for him in this one, but Minshew did his part to set one up in the second quarter. On fourth-and-4, his blockers held off UW’s three-man rush long enough, allowing Minshew to shuffle away from the pocket and rifle a pass through the snow to Jackson on a short drag over the middle. The play moved the sticks and Williams pranced into the end zone four plays later to cut the deficit to 14-7.
(play at 15:35)
13. Washington State vs. Iowa State
The play: 7-yard touchdown run
And for the closing act? Four Iowa State defenders were charging at Minshew when he made the escape of the season to give the Cougars a two-touchdown buffer in the Alamo Bowl. On second-and-goal, Minshew scanned the right side of the field to see all three receivers covered. Another Cyclones defender took away his checkdown option, so the QB stepped forward into the pocket, spun out of a tackle and slipped back out before darting to the end zone. Minshew jumped to avoid Anthony Johnson’s shoestring tackle, landed on his left foot and tucked the ball as he dove across the goal line.
(play at 3:12)
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