Back home for the first time in a month, the Washington State Cougars found their footing, turning a close game against the Stanford Cardinal into a laugher with 24 unanswered points to close out the game as they cruised to a 49-22 victory.
The win moved WSU to within just one game of bowl eligibility as the Cougars improved to 5-5 on the season and 2-5 in the Pac-12; they’ll have a chance to secure their postseason status next weekend against the Oregon State Beavers. Stanford, which now has lost to WSU four consecutive times, dropped to 4-6 and 3-5; the Cardinal will need to beat both the California Golden Bears and Notre Dame Fighting Irish to end the season to advance to a bowl.
Anthony Gordon had a huge day, throwing for 520 yards and five touchdowns on 44-of-60 passing. That fifth touchdown? It set the all time single season passing TD record for WSU ... with at least two games to play.
Brandon Arconado had another huge day, hauling in nine passes for 148 yards and touchdown. But perhaps more noteworthy was the return of production by the outside receivers, led by Easop Winston Jr., who had 11 catches for 107 yards and two TDs. Max Borghi, meanwhile, picked up 111 yards and a TD on the ground and added another 34 yards and a TD on eight catches as the offense piled up 624 yards overall.
There were only two drives on which the Cougars didn’t score: Their fourth, when Gordon threw a red zone interception, and their last, when Gordon took a knee three times.
The defense, meanwhile, did what it’s done all year by giving up 510 yards to a previously inept opponent; Stanford actually gained nearly a yard more per play than the Cougars did. But there was one notable difference in this one: A couple of key third down stops in the third quarter and a big turnover in the fourth quarter thwarted some Cardinal scoring opportunities, and with the way the WSU offense was playing, that was enough.
Coming off a miserable performance at Cal last weekend, the game could hardly have gotten off to a better start for WSU — at least, relative to what this team has done this season. The offense got out of the gate fast with an 11-play TD drive that was capped by a 29-yard TD to Easop Winston Jr.:
Cougs strike first. @gordo1_ finds @EasopWinston to break through the endzone. #STANvsWSU— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) November 16, 2019
Meanwhile, the defense gave up some yards, but David Shaw did what David Shaw does: Even in plus field position, he elected to punt in an effort to pin WSU deep. Which he did — twice! — but it didn’t matter; the Cougars scored on TD drives of 96 and 97 yards to take a 19-0 lead that was marred only by a pair of missed PATs.
On the first TD drive, Brandon Arconado picked up 19 yards on a beautiful toe-tap catch on the sideline that eventually led to a pitch and catch from Anthony Gordon to Tay Martin on a great route concept on which the Y and Z receivers cleared out all the coverage:
Anotha one. @_Taymartin1 ran to the 'green grass' for a second @WSUCougarFB touchdown.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) November 16, 2019
Watch #STANvsWSU live ➡️ https://t.co/Ha9nuR0m9W pic.twitter.com/YR8FKqYvZZ
On the second drive — which took just about three minutes to cover those 97 yards — the key play was a 37-yard completion to Renard Bell on 3rd-and-10 that moved WSU down to the Stanford 23. Three plays later, Gordon tossed his third TD on four drives when he found Winston on 3rd-and-2:
I mean, why run it on 3rd and 2 against a light box when you can just throw another TD? https://t.co/0Y6GkHbMqA— Podcast vs. Everyone (@PodvsEveryone) November 16, 2019
But, as we know with this team, nothing good lasts for very long, and Stanford came back with a TD on a drive that covered 75 yards in just two throws. It looked like it wouldn’t much matter, as WSU came right back down the field, driving from its own 16 to Stanford’s 11. But then Gordon got a little greedy, going back to the same play on which he found Winston for the TD, and a dropping linebacker read it easily, picking the ball off at the goal line.
It took Stanford just nine plays to cover 99 yards, including a 3rd-and-18 conversion, ending with a WSU DB getting abused again:
This half isn't over yet. @Millsions ➡️ @michaelgwilson1 for a @StanfordFball TD.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) November 16, 2019
Watch #STANvsWSU live: https://t.co/Ha9nuR0m9W pic.twitter.com/zc2chwJ6rV
However, the Cardinal left a little too much time on the clock, and WSU was able to drive for a field goal, and the margin was 22-14 at halftime.
Coming out of the break, both teams moved the ball but stalled out deep in the opponent’s territory. The difference was that WSU had Mazza: Stanford missed its field goal, but the Cougars hit theirs, and the lead was 25-14.
Stanford — or maybe the WSU defense? — was determined to make it interesting, though. The Cardinal had their second quick-strike drive of the night when Mills found Cameron Scarlett for 20 yards, then Simi Fehoko for 54 yards, then finally Fehoko again for 10 yards and a TD. A two-point conversion made it 25-22, and a game that WSU felt like it was controlling to some degree had suddenly gotten uncomfortably close.
That’s when the Cougars took control for real.
On the ensuing kickoff, Travell Harris — who has been excellent on kick returns all year — nearly had his first TD, covering 83 yards and taking the ball down to Stanford’s 10-yard line.
Look at @_THarris1 go!!!— Washington State Football (@WSUCougarFB) November 17, 2019
83 yard return ♂️ #GoCougs | #CougsVsEverybody pic.twitter.com/y8RsXTTvhB
Two plays later, Gordon found Arconado wide open in the end zone for his fourth TD throw of the ballgame. Stanford’s next drive ended with a sack by Jahad Woods ...
SACK by @JW13__ #GoCougs | #CougsVsEverybody pic.twitter.com/1cSrH9fGyA— Washington State Football (@WSUCougarFB) November 17, 2019
... and WSU tacked on yet another field goal to make it 35-22. It felt like the Cougars might have missed a real opportunity to put the game out of reach, but then Skyler Thomas came up with his third interception of the year, reading a soft throw to the sideline as Mills scrambled to buy some time.
Set up with a short field, WSU hit the kill shot: Following a 22-yard pass to Winston on 3rd and 12 — after Shaw accepted a holding penalty on WSU that, if declined, would have left them with a 4th-and-1 from Stanford’s 25 — that took the Cougs down to the Stanford 14. Three plays later, Gordon swung it out to Borghi in the flat for a two-yard TD that made the margin 42-22.
With seven minutes to go, the game was essentially over, but Woods added a red zone interception on the Cardinal’s next drive, and Borghi ran in another touchdown for good measure to provide the final margin, 49-22.