It wasn’t perfect and it had the rough moments fans come to expect from a season opener, but the Washington State Cougars overcame a three-point halftime deficit to roll to a 41-19 victory over the Wyoming Cowboys in Laramie.
The Cougs outscored Wyoming 28-3 in the final two quarters, outgaining them 247-81, to put to rest any notion of an upset by the Cowboys of the Mountain West Conference.
Although he experienced a shaky run in the second quarter in which he threw seven consecutive incompletions, Gardner Minshew passed his debut behind center for WSU with flying colors. The fifth-year grad transfer threw for 319 yards on 38-of-57 passing with three touchdowns and one interception. James Williams led the skill players with 135 total yards on 16 carries and 10 receptions with two touchdowns.
The Cougs got off to a quick start, both through their own execution and a plethora of mistakes by the Cowboys. The WSU offense came out with a balanced attack in the first quarter, running the ball to great effect. Williams gained 46 yards on just seven carries, including an 18-yarder that set up the Cougs’ first touchdown, a reception by ... Williams! One of the better catches you’ll see all season:
Meanwhile, the defense stifled Wyoming. About the only thing Wyoming had going was a terrible snap on WSU’s punt after the third drive, which sailed over the head of Oscar Draguicevich and resulted in a safety. The free kick went out of bounds, and Wyoming was in business on the WSU 45. But a third consecutive three-and-out closed out the opening frame with WSU leading 10-2 — and Wyoming “gaining” minus-1 yards.
Not content to give the Cowboys that opportunity, a Max Borghi fumble on a shovel pass gave Wyoming great field position again, and this time they converted — with a healthy assist from a number of missed tackles by WSU — when Nico Evans rumbled in from eight yards out.
Suddenly a game WSU had been dominating was just one-point margin.
But the Cougs came back on the next drive with Blake Mazza’s second field goal, which was set up by a nice 31-yard grab by Tay Martin, who beat his man off the line and then reeled in the contested ball.
Another Cougar mistake set up the Cowboys’ third score. Faced with a free runner, Minshew fired the ball early and it landed right in the hands of Antnonio Hull; four plays, 54 yards, and more missed tackles later, Wyoming was in the end zone again.
The Cowboys led 16-13 despite being outgained 142-98, and it would remain that way until halftime.
Wyoming tacked on three more points on its first drive of the second half, keyed by a 23-yard, 3rd-and-21 conversion that came after WSU inexplicably blitzed against a QB who hadn’t completed a pass longer than 15 yards.
But the WSU offense finally came back to life, responding with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that was classic Air Raid ... with a little bit of not-so-classic Air Raid mixed in. I’ll just show you the video, rather than try to describe it:
By the way — here’s that bananas formation WSU ran for a couple of plays. Mike Leach is at it again ... pic.twitter.com/qz4C48epEY— CougCenter (@CougCenter) September 1, 2018
WSU ran out of that formation twice, snapping the ball directly to Williams both times for gains of five and four yards.
The biggest play of the drive was a 4th-and-6 conversion where Minshew bought enough time to float a ball into the hands of a crossing Jamire Calvin for a 9-yard gain. Calvin followed that up with 17 more yards, and three plays later, Borghi had his first career touchdown.
After trading a few possessions, the Cougs extended their lead on the next drive. After taking over in good field position near midfield, Minshew hit Dezmon Patmon in stride down the seam for a 29-yard gain. Then, two plays later, he found Easop Winston with this dime — his third TD toss of the day.
WSU put the game out of reach for good on the next drive, as Borghi showed the kind of running skills that we’ve been hearing about all during camp:
And Williams added one more TD for good measure.
The Cougs head back to Pullman for their home opener next Saturday. That’ll be against the mighty San Jose Spartans at 8 p.m. on Pac-12 Network.