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WSU storms back to beat Stanford, 41-38

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The legend of Gardner Minshew grows, as WSU takes sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 North.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Stanford Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Gardner Minshew II threw for 438 yards and three touchdowns and Blake Mazza hit a field goal with 19 seconds remaining as the No. 14 Washington State Cougars — who trailed by 14 late in the first half — stormed back with a huge second half to beat the No. 24 Stanford Cardinal, 41-38.

The win moved the Cougars to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the Pac-12, good for sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 North after the Washington Huskies lost to the California Golden Bears earlier in the evening. Stanford dropped to 5-3 and 3-2.

The division now looks like this:

WSU outscored Stanford 24-10 in the second half as Minshew put on an Air Raid clinic. He was 24-of-27 for 247 yards and a pair of touchdowns after the break, and many of those yards went to Dezmon Patmon, who was an absolute beast with 10 catches for 127 yards. For a stretch, he was darn near uncoverable. Overall, Minshew completed 40 of his 50 passes.

We talked yesterday about red zone conversions potentially being a key to the game, given WSU’s prowess on offense and Stanford’s stinginess on defense. It did, indeed, prove to the be the difference: WSU scored touchdowns on five of its six red zone possessions, tacking on a field goal on the one that didn’t get across the goal line.

There was concern of a letdown after last weekend’s emotional win over the Oregon Ducks, but there was little evidence of that early on, as it was tied at 14 after the first three possessions for each team. Stanford scored first, marching right down the field on the arm of KJ Costello. WSU answered right back, scoring on a six play, 75-yard drive, when James Williams cruised in on a run from five yards out.

Things were looking even more up on the next Stanford drive, when a blitzing Peyton Pelluer stripped Costello and Taylor Comfort recovered the ball at the Cardinal 23-yard-line. Five plays later Minshew found Max Borghi on an expertly designed swing pass that thwarted Stanford’s six-man blitz.

But it got decidedly more dicey from there. Stanford kept riding Costello, who targeted his favorite receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside relentlessly to great effect, scoring touchdowns on three of their next four drives to take a 28-14 lead. Frankly, the WSU defense looked helpless.

The helplessness wasn’t just limited to the defense. After taking the 14-7 lead, the offense suffered consecutive three-and-outs for the first time all season. The next drive was a little better, picking up a couple of first downs, but it stalled when a potential 4th-and-short attempt was nullified by a false start, resulting in a punt.

Getting the ball back with just over a minute left in the first half — thanks to Mike Leach inexplicably failing to use his final timeout to stop the clock when Stanford had 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard-line — WSU was able to draw just a bit closer before the break. Minshew found Jamire Calvin crossing and he galloped for a 54-yard gain down to the Stanford 13. But the Cougs couldn’t get in the end zone and settled for a Blake Mazza field goal to pull back to within 28-17 at the break.

Was the first half a letdown? Tough to say, given the strong start offensively. One thing that might point that direction: WSU committed seven penalties for 69 yards. Some of that was the pass interference calls, but a lot of that was just poor discipline.

But much like the Oregon Ducks against WSU the week before, the Cougars came out firing in the second half, cleaning up their penalties and putting their foot on the gas.

WSU got the ball first and promptly marched 75 yards in nine plays, ending with a 3-yard Williams TD that brought the Cougs to within four; they never even faced a third down on the drive.

The next drive is when it all really started changing. Stanford drove with relative ease to the WSU 22-yard-line and faced 3rd-and-1, but the WSU defense came up huge on Costello’s sneak, leaving the Cardinal with a 4th-and-1. Rather than trust his offense, which had been moving the ball well for virtually the entire game, David Shaw elected to kick a field goal, which was converted for a seven-point lead.

WSU and Stanford traded punts, and that’s when Minshew activated God mode, or whatever you call it, because he was 100 percent on fire for the remainder of the game.

Next drive: 82 yards, 10 plays — the first three completions to Patmon for a total of 32 yards — ending in this gorgeous touchdown to Tay Martin:

Stanford tried to answer back, moving the ball to the WSU 33. But rather than kick a long field goal on 4th-and-3 — well within the kicker’s range — Shaw decided to be aggressive this time. It backfired: Costello dumped the ball off to Bryce Love, who had played very little to that point, and the Cougars rallied to stop him for a loss.

The next drive wasn’t quite as easy for the Cougs. It started off well, as WSU picked up a pair of first downs — first on a 13-yard completion to Calvin, next on a 15-yard completion to Easop Winston Jr. But three plays later, WSU faced 4th-and-1 from the Stanford 27. WSU emptied the backfield, but instead of throwing, Minshew was tasked with making his own way on a QB draw. Stanford was ready for the run, but they weren’t prepared for Minshew, who drug a Stanford lineman two yards to pick up the first down.

Four plays later, he found Renard Bell abusing his man to give the Cougars their first lead since the first quarter:

Stanford wouldn’t quite go away, though. The Cardinal converted a trio of third downs to drive all the way down to the WSU 28. That’s when Arcega-Whiteside — who, until that drive, had zero catches in the second half — broke loose. The WSU DBs bit on a pump fake, and Stanford’s most dangerous weapon was walking into the end zone to tie the game at 38.

But if you’ve ever played video games, you know that that 1:25 was too much time on the clock — especially when WSU had all three timeouts.

First, Minshew found James Williams for nine yards. Then, a one-yard loss on a rush by Williams set up a critical 3rd-and-2. But Minshew found Jamire Calvin streaking down the middle of the field for 35 yards, moving the Cougs right into field goal range. A seven-yard completion to Patmon got WSU even closer, and after a pair of incompletions, Mazza trotted onto the field to win it.

And win it he did.

With just 14 seconds left after the kick return, Stanford could do little. The Cardinal’s final pass was caught with a knee on the ground, and that was it.