Washington State was in control. The Cougars led Stanford by 12 points late in the second quarter and were about to extend their lead when Anthony Gordon missed an open Brandon Arconado in the end zone.
The Pac-12 booth crew of Ted Robinson and Yogi Roth began to argue. The analyst, a former wide receiver for Pitt, blamed Arconado for not catching a ball that sailed well over his head. The play-by-play veteran, Robinson, pointed at Gordon’s too-high throw.
However, they agreed on the import of the next play.
Gordon threw an interception at the 1-yard line, the Cardinal drove 99 yards on nine plays and the feel of the game changed.
The outcome, however, didn’t.
Washington State tightened up the defense in the second half, Gordon finished with five touchdown passes and the Cougars moved within one win of becoming bowl eligible with a 49-22 win over Stanford.
What they saw
• Roth identified early how Stanford could stay in the game: Turn quarterback Davis Mills loose.
Roth knows what he’s talking about.
Despite an overbearing focus on the Cardinal’s inordinate amount of injuries, Roth also understood how an also-depleted Cougars secondary was going to struggle to cover not just Stanford’s tall receivers, but all of them.
Mills, who began the season behind K.J. Costello but has started more games than the injured senior, only handed off nine times. Instead of the traditional power Cardinal running game, he directed a pass attack that accounted for 504 yards and three touchdowns.
Included in his total were passes good for 54, 47, 43, 28, 27, 25, 23, 23, 21, 21, 21 and 20 yards. The explosive completions accounted for 72% of Mills’ passing yardage, which just happened to be a Stanford single-game record. He did, however, throw two fourth-quarter interceptions that killed any chance of a comeback.
• Gordon threw for 520 yards, which would be, for most quarterbacks, a career day. But for Gordon, it seemed as if he wasn’t at his best.
Despite completing 44 of 60 passes, the senior missed some open receivers, especially deep down the field early in the game.
But Gordon sparkled as the game wore on – and Stanford’s defenders wore down – helping the Cougars score 24 consecutive points after the Cardinal had cut the lead to three in the third quarter.
Gordon made the right decision in the fourth quarter to put the game away. He converted a key third-and-12 by finding Easop Winston Jr. for 22 yards and a first down at the Stanford 14 while the game was still in doubt. It led to Gordon’s fifth scoring pass of the night – a 2-yard pass to Max Borghi – which set a WSU single-season record with 39 touchdowns.
“He’s just playing with such command,” Roth said. “His command of the system was as good as I’ve ever seen.”
What we saw
• There is a vocal group of football fans that believes replay review has been such a detriment it needs to be tossed aside.
But there is no going back. Not now, not anymore. Two first-half plays, one on each side of the field, illustrated why.
The first was a Winston 29-yard touchdown pass and run that opened the scoring. The play ended when Winston dived for the pylon and hit it with his left arm that cradled the ball. Line judge Michael Feldman, trailing the play, overruled field judge Jeffrey Yock’s call of a touchdown and marked the ball at the 1-yard line.
Replay was clear. Winston, who caught 11 balls for 107 yards, hadn’t come anywhere near the sideline. The call was overruled.
The other play came on a 19-yard hookup between Arconado and Gordon that was originally called out of bounds. Replay showed the slot receiver had done a spectacular job of dragging his left foot while securing the ball. The call was overruled. The catch was part of a nine catch game for 148 yards.
• Nothing could have helped referee Steve Strimling from the boos that rained down from the Dad’s Weekend crowd in the first quarter. They had their birth in last week’s blown call that cost WSU 57 yards of field position in the California loss.
Strimling announced Borghi, No. 21, had been called for a hold on a swing pass – that he had caught. The actual culprit, which Strimling announced later but was hard to hear over the boos, was Dezmon Patmon, No. 12.