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Never satisfied: Even after 51-point victory, WSU aims to fix the little things vs. Northern Colorado

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 6, 2019, 6:35 p.m.

PULLMAN – Each time he watched a Washington State wide receiver take one of his passes into the end zone, Anthony Gordon raised both of his arms, pointed both index fingers toward the sky and made a dead sprint to the end zone.

Gordon threw five touchdowns, totaled 420 yards and finished with a superb attempt-to-completion ratio (29 of 35) in the Cougars’ dominant 58-7 win over New Mexico State last Saturday. Of his FBS quarterbacking peers, Gordon carried the best NFL QB rating (156.3) on opening weekend and he’ll be expecting three certificates in the mail soon, after winning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week, Manning Award Quarterback of the Week and the Rose Bowl Game’s Pac-12 Player of the Week.

In truth, Gordon wished he would’ve been able to point his fingers toward the sky one more time.

During the third quarter, Renard Bell sprung free on a seam route up the middle, but Gordon put too much air underneath his pass and it sailed well over the small “H” receiver, skidding across the crimson-painted turf in the end zone. Gordon smacked himself on the helmet a few times before trotting off the field as Blake Mazza came on to kick a 45-yard field goal.

“I lost a little sleep over that one,” Gordon said three days later during a midweek interview. “Definitely would’ve been nice to cap it off with that one. Nice little exclamation point.”

That such a play – insignificant in the grand scheme of things – gnawed at Gordon in the wake of a 51-point victory indicates WSU’s new starting quarterback, like predecessors Luke Falk and Gardner Minshew, prefers to zero in on where he can improve rather than basking in his robust passing numbers.

There should be more of those when heavily favored WSU (1-0) – and that probably doesn’t even do it justice – hosts FCS Northern Colorado (0-1) Saturday afternoon on Hall of Fame weekend in Pullman. Fans not attending the 2 p.m. game in person will only be able to stream the action via Pac-12 Washington. More information on how to watch can be found on the Pac-12 Networks website.

The Cougars know this won’t be a game that will boost their place in the AP Top 25, or impact their College Football Playoff résumé, so they’re viewing it as an opportunity to tweak, fix and perfect before the opponents start to get stronger and the games much more consequential.

There’s no better example of that than the fifth-year senior starting behind center. Gordon’s been encouraged to stretch the field and strike downfield when the opportunities present themselves, especially with long, athletic wide receivers who can make the play more often than not.

“I thought it was pretty smooth, I thought it went pretty well in the first half,” Gordon said. “Then I thought in the second half I maybe got a little too aggressive. Maybe a little too ambitious with some throws trying to get a home run rather than a base hit, as Coach Leach may say sometimes. So, just got to go through my reads and throw it to the open guy more often, I guess.”

Teams often adopt the attitude and personality of their starting quarterback. Gordon’s mentality of not settling and constantly improving seemed to spread through the offense and spilled over to the defense, which played well enough to keep a shutout for 51 minutes, but slipped up on a few occasions in the first quarter.

“We still played just sloppy,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “But I will say this: When you have four or five kids that are playing back there for the first time – even Skyler (Thomas) playing a different position in the first game – it’s going to happen. I was really pleased with the way we competed and they played hard. … To hold them to seven points after the way we started, I did think overall it was a good effort.

“But definitely a few things to clean up.”

In the wake of a 51-point win, some may call it nitpicky. The Cougars prefer dissatisfied.

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