The College Football Playoff No. 8 Washington State Cougars scored 55 points in the first half against the Arizona Wildcats and Gardner Minshew II set a WSU record with seven TD passes as the Cougs cruised to a 69-28 victory on Saturday night in Pullman.
WSU moves to 10-1 on the season and 7-1 in the Pac-12; it’s the first 10-win season for the Cougars since 2003. Arizona, meanwhile, drops to 5-6 overall and needs a win over the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Territorial Cup to gain bowl eligibility.
Minshew threw for 473 yards on 43-of-55 passing, his 11th game over 300 yards in 11 tries this season. It also was his sixth game over 400 yards, and his second game with five or more passing touchdowns. Tay Martin hauled in seven passes for 124 yards and a touchdown, his biggest performance in weeks. Running back Max Borghi had 115 total yards and a touchdown.
It was complete domination out of the gate for the Cougars, as the game was over by halftime. The Cougs racked up 407 yards in the first two quarters, including 311 yards through the air, with eight touchdowns on nine possessions. This is what complete command looks like:
The Cougars were the aggressors from the start, flying around and forcing the issue in the sub-freezing weather against their opponents from balmy Tucson, Ariz. The Wildcats looked less ready to play, committing a number of gaffes in the first half, including a handful of 15-yard penalties. WSU was ready to pounce on all of them.
The tone setter was an interception by Marcus Strong on the first Arizona possession. Khalil Tate rolled out on third down, hoping to find his receiver downfield, lofting a long pass. But Strong twisted his body and corralled the ball with one hand in one of the more impressive interceptions you’ll ever see.
Oddly, the ensuing possession was WSU’s lone empty one of the first half. But the defense showed that it was not going to succumb to Tate and J.J. Taylor as it did last season.
It would take too long to detail all of the touchdowns in this game — there were 10! — so we’ll just highlight a couple of the fun ones.
With Arizona having closed the gap to 28-14 early in the second quarter on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Khalil Tate to Tony Ellison, WSU responded with a seven-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a six-yard pass from Minshew to Jamire Calvin to move WSU’s margin back to three touchdowns.
That’s when this game officially went ham.
When was the last time you saw an onside kickoff for a TD?
Later, with WSU leading 48-14, Arizona was driving to try and close the gap just a little before the half. But Jahad Woods was having none of that, stripping Gary Brightwell at the goal line, with Marcus Strong recovering the ball in the end zone.
There were just 40 seconds to go in the half and 80 yards to go to score a touchdown. WSU only needed 30 of them.
First, Minshew found Max Borghi underneath for a 30-yard gain. The next pass? A deep shot down the sideline to Tay Martin, which he hauled in for a 50-yard score.
The second half was a bit more subdued, as WSU scored just two touchdowns, both in the fourth quarter. Only another botched extra point — please, God, don’t let it be the difference in the Apple Cup — kept WSU from breaking the 70-point barrier for the first time in Mike Leach’s tenure at WSU.
With the onslaught of points from the offense, it would be easy to overlook the defense. That would be a mistake: After last season’s nightmare against the Wildcats, WSU gave up “just” 431 yards. Tate had 294 yards and four touchdowns, but he didn’t make the explosive plays with his legs that were so costly last season, gaining just 25 yards on the ground. Additionally, Arizona running back J.J. Taylor gained just 69 yards on 20 carries.