Eastern Washington made it uncomfortable for a good portion of the second half, but the Washington State Cougars exerted their will through the fourth quarter, running away from the Eagles for a 59-24 victory.
Gardner Minshew threw for a career high 470 yards, Tay Martin had another big day with 13 catches for 149 and a score, and James Williams added three scores on the ground. The defense forced three interceptions from Gage Gubrud, and special teams got in on the action with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Travell Harris.
After an uneven start that included a delay of game penalty and a miscommunication on third down, the defense established its presence early, with pressure causing a underthrow by Gage Gubrud that ended up in the hands of Jalen Thompson. The turnover shook out the cobwebs for the offense, and Gardner Minshew II began dealing, hitting Jamire Calvin twice for big chunks and getting the ball to Davontavean Martin on the doorstep. James Williams finished the drive with a plunge from the six-inch line to open the scoring for the Cougs.
A pair of three-and-outs sandwiched a drive by the Cougar offense that showed some promise, but ended when Minshew was sacked on fourth down. The next drive, however, capitalized on that promise, and Minshew dropped a dime to Easop Winston in the corner of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown.
EWU’s next drive ended in a 37-yard field goal by Roldan Alcobendes, and was highlighted by a 42-yard catch and run on third and long by Nsimba Webster. The points ended a nearly eight quarter scoreless streak by the WSU defense. After Wyoming’s field goal to open the second half in Laramie, opponents’ drives against the Cougs went punt, punt, punt, punt end of game, eleven straight punts, interception, interception, punt, punt. Decent, imo.
Travell Harris immediately responded with a 100-yard kickoff return for a score, running the lead out to 21-3. A good kickoff return by the Eagles put them in good field position, but Darrien Molton plucked the ball out of the air for an interception after Jahad Woods sacked Gubrud, putting Eastern in a third and long situation. The subsequent drive for the Cougar offense spanned 98 yards and culminated with the second touchdown run for James Williams. Along the way, Calvin Jackson, Jr caught his first ball for WSU.
EWU followed up with a very impressive drive, led by running back Tamarick Pierce’s 34 yards rushing. Gubrud found Andrew Boston for a 26-yard touchdown. Washington State ran out the clock and took a 28-10 lead into the half. Minshew completed 25 passes on 33 attempts for 263 yards in the half. Tay Martin was his top receiver with eight catches.
Eastern Washington opened up the second half the way they closed the first, pounding the Cougar defense between the tackles. Gubrud capped the drive by finding Zach Eagle behind the defense for a 34-yard scoring strike, bringing the Eagles to within eleven, 28-17.
An ineffective Cougar drive put the ball back in the hands of Gage Gubrud and EWU. The Cougar defense forced a field goal that was negated by a holding penalty. In lieu of a 54-yard attempt, EWU head coach Aaron Best decided to punt the ball away, pinning WSU at the one. Ho hum, Gardner Minshew completes seven straight passes and James Williams gets touchdown number three from eight yards out, no big deal.
Eastern Washington marched right back down the field and running back Dennis Merritt outran Peyton Pelluer down the hash for a 44-yard touchdown catch. WSU had a long touchdown wiped out by a holding call on the next series, and punted it away. On the ensuing EWU possession, Jahad Woods snatched a highlight reel interception, setting up a 44-yard field goal by Blake Mazza.
The defense forced a punt, and Tay Martin continued his big night with a back shoulder catch in the end zone for a 45-24 lead. The ensuing kickoff was fumbled, with Kainoa Wilson jumping on the ball after Jalen Thompson knocked it loose. Three plays later, Max Borghi found paydirt from six yards out.
After Eastern picked up some yardage, driving into Cougar territory, the defense forced a fourth down and picked up the stop. The offense saw some liberal substituting from the next drive forward, as Trey Tinsley found the right kneepads for his first snaps, and Rodrick Fisher recorded his first catch as a Cougar. Tinsley threw his first touchdown pass to the old man, Robert Lewis, to close out the scoring at 59-24.
The Cougs closed out the non-conference schedule on a high note, winning all three games in convincing fashion. They’ll open up their Pac-12 slate on Friday night in SoCal, taking on USC at 7:30 PST on ESPN.