In August when Mike Leach was asked who Gardner Minshew II reminded him of and he said “he kind of reminds me of a cross between Brett Favre and Jim McMahon,” I remember thinking, “come again?” The Washington State Cougars already were noticing the unique nature of the Mississippi Mustache, but at the time Leach’s comments sounded to me like coachspeak or that maybe Leach was trolling the reporters he was talking to. However, after eight weeks, I think it’s clear that he was being serious and he didn’t just recruit a grad transfer who was offered by Alabama, he recruited a budding folk hero.
This week marks a really big test for Minshew and the Cougar offense. Cal rolls into Pullman fresh off an upset of UW, helped by a pick 6 from Evan Weaver (cue Chris Berman: “FROM?”, cue Tom Jackson: “Spokane!”) and utterly shutting down a solid UW passing attack (UW is ranked 19th in Passing S&P+). My perception of Cougar nation is that the vibe is one of worry or trepidation this week. It feels like a cold, dark Pullman night against a team where weird stuff seems to happen every time we play has most people readying for a face plant.
Cal’s defense is currently ranked 11th in S&P+; they’re only giving up 165 yards through the air a game (7th nationally) and are 15th in yards per play (4.62). Head coach Justin Wilcox has Cal’s defense doing their thing. Their offense is, to put it kindly, not good. If the game is close late, it’s going to be because their defense is really limiting WSU’s offense vs the shoot outs that the Cougs have found themselves in at times this season.
If WSU is in a tight game in the 4th quarter, though, have no fear: Time and time again, once the game enters its last period, it’s seemed like a WWF announcer shouts out “IS THAT GARDNER MINSHEW’S MUSIC?!”
The below chart looks at the ranking for Power 5 QB’s with at least 150 pass attempts this season in yards per attempt, TD % (what percent of pass attempts result in a touchdown) and % of passes attempts for 25+ yards. We’re all familiar with how this version of Mike Leach’s Air Raid has tended to not be super explosive, but more so a death-by-a-thousand-cuts clinic in efficiency. Minshew is still super efficient, getting the most out of James Williams and Max Borghi’s pass catching abilities and Air Raiding team’s to death. However, it seems that he and Leach are poking and prodding throughout the game and then unleashing in the 4th quarter.
Minshew is 25th in the Power 5 in overall yards per attempt (7.7), but in the 4th quarter, he’s fourth (10.4); in TD% it’s 18th (6.28%) to 6th (11.5%); and, most interesting to me, is that he moves from 38th (6.28%) to 7th (12.64%) in % of attempts completed for 25+ yards. When the game needs to be won, Minshew is balling out and often pushing the ball further down the field to do it.
When exploring the chart, “All Stats” is just that, a QB’s overall stat line. The goal of the chart is to see if QB’s are seeing a big jump in performance in the 4th quarter by comparing the two situations.
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Cal’s defense is good, but their 4th quarter production against the pass stays consistent with most other situations. There is a 30% chance of rain leading up to 11 PM Saturday night, so weather could be a factor, but Minshew’s carefree attitude makes me think he won’t be bothered by a brisk Pullman evening. This team feels different, in large part because of Minshew and I’m edging closer to talking myself into a two score victory, but in the event it’s closer than that late, in the Mustache we trust.