PULLMAN – A four-point loss to UCLA. A four-point loss to Arizona State. A two-point loss to Oregon.
Washington State had been on the wrong side of this too many times, but when the Cougars needed it most, they reversed course and made the key plays – on offense and defense – that had eluded them so many times.
It was the defense stuffing Oregon State on fourth-and-4 and the offense stringing together its most impressive drive of the season – 10 plays and 58 yards – capped by a powerful statement from sophomore running back Max Borghi.
We could give you three rewinds from the Cougars’ 54-53 triumph and it still may not be enough to recapture everything that took place Saturday night at Martin Stadium. But nonetheless, here are the three things – three of many – we took away from WSU’s bowl-sealing victory against OSU.
Spread it out
It can be easy to get lost in the sheer number of passing yards and touchdowns Gordon has thrown for this season, but the quarterback’s distribution has been as impressive as anything else.
The redshirt senior certainly won’t be accused of favoritism, because he’s thrown passes to 12 different receivers and hit 10 of them for touchdowns this season. Before the year, many expected this to be WSU’s deepest receiver corps under Mike Leach, and the numbers will back that assertion up.
Under Leach, the Cougars have had five receivers finish the season with more than 500 yards once. That came in 2017, when Tavares Martin Jr. (831), Isaiah Johnson-Mack (555), Renard Bell (538), Kyle Sweet (533) and Jamal Morrow (506) all managed to hit the plateau.
Five is impressive, but seven is almost unheard of, and that’s what the 2019 Cougars will be shooting for in their final two games. After 11 games, five wideouts are already over 500 yards and two more are on the verge of getting there.
Easop Winston Jr. (914), Brandon Arconado (908), Dezmon Patmon (689), Tay Martin (515) and Max Borghi (508) hit the 500-yard marker with a couple games to spare, while Travell Harris (487) and Bell (448) are each a few catches from getting there.
Gordon connected with nine different receivers against OSU and hit four of them for touchdowns.
“We hit a lot of receivers,” Leach said. “We didn’t hit as many as I thought, we hit nine of them. But we targeted seven of them more than four times.”
Also, the Cougars have only had multiple 1,000-yard receivers in the same season once under Leach – in 2015 when Gabe Marks finished with 1,192 and Dom Williams with 1,040. Arconado and Winston should become the second pairing to do it. Winston needs just 86 yards over the final two games, while Arconado is 92 shy.
Max Borghi’s late heroics saved the defense from what would have been another humiliating week. And in some ways, the defense saved itself, executing on a fourth-and-4 play that allowed Gordon and the offense to take over near midfield with more than 60 seconds left.
But, aside from that big play and an early Bryce Beekman interception, the defense spent the better part of four quarters disoriented. The Cougars were chasing down Jermar Jefferson and Artavis Pierce, and fighting for 50/50 balls against the Beavers’ big pass-catchers. OSU won more than half of those.
For the fourth time this season, an opposing quarterback threw for a season high against the Cougars, with OSU’s Jake Luton completing 22 of 40 passes for 408 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Luton joined a club that also includes Stanford’s Davis Mills (504), UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson (507) and Cal’s Devon Modster (230). Utah’s Tyler Huntley also threw for 334 yards against WSU, which is one yard shy of his best game.
While the Cougars did a decent job on OSU’s Isaiah Hodgins, who had just five catches for 65 yards, it opened up more for his teammates. Champ Flemings topped the 100-yard mark. Noah Togiai, Tyjon Lindsey and Jefferson all finished north of 50.
WSU is still struggling to mitigate explosive plays, conceding 10 more in Saturday’s game. Seven of those gained 30 yards or more. Three plays were 40 yards or longer and four went for touchdowns.
The Beavers scored on eight of their 15 possessions. The Cougars gave up at least one play of 20 yards or longer on each of OSU’s scoring drives, but didn’t give up a single explosive play on the drives that didn’t see the Beavers score.
“I think we’re doing better at pressuring the quarterback,” Leach said. “I don’t know if we’re seeing progress or not, I’m going to have to look at the film. We’re still giving up way too many explosives.”
Six for “3”
Notching a sixth win on Saturday was important for the obvious reasons, but multiple WSU players afterward said the game was a tribute to Tyler Hilinski and dedicated the win to the late quarterback who was honored before the game with 13 other seniors.
“It feels good,” linebacker Jahad Woods said. “I can’t help but think ‘3’ helped us out. It’s a great feeling. I’m trying not to get emotional, but it’s a crazy feeling and on to the next.”
“Does it feel like you won this game for Tyler?” a reporter asked.
“Yeah for sure, we did,” Woods said. “We won this game for Tyler and his family.”
Mark and Kym traveled to Pullman from Columbia, South Carolina, to take part in Saturday’s Senior Day festivities – a decision that wasn’t easy. The parents, accompanied by former WSU linebacker Peyton Pelluer, were presented with a flower bouquet and a framed No. 3 jersey.
Earlier in the day, the Hilinskis said they didn’t want their presence to detract from Saturday’s game, but WSU players were all confident it had the opposite effect.
“No doubt, can’t help but think about it,” Gordon said. “Tyler’s with us every step of the way. It was awesome to see Mark and Kym and I know it was pretty tough for them, but it was great to see them and I’m real happy we were able to get a win for them.”
Nose tackle Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei is a junior college transfer who never met Hilinski, but said “the impact he’s left on this team is tremendous. This was his Senior Night if he was here, so we just wanted to finish on a good note for him and all the other seniors.”
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