CORVALLIS – Washington State didn’t need to worry much about its offense Saturday night at Reser Stadium.
In another prolific showing from their graduate transfer quarterback, the Cougars rode Gardner Minshew from start to finish, squeezing out five touchdowns and 430 yards from the fifth-year senior whose mustache has given him instant fame among WSU fans, and whose big arm and deceptive athleticism have given Mike Leach’s offense a potency it didn’t have under Luke Falk.
Minshew’s offense cultivated 530 total yards against OSU. For the better part of three quarters, it seemed the Beavers were determined to match that.
Through Jermar Jefferson’s hard running and Jonathan Smith’s hocus-pocus play-calling, the underdogs – expected to lose by more than two touchdowns – established a two-point lead early on in the third quarter. But as soon as the trickery wore off and Jefferson’s legs started to tire, the Cougars blasted off, scoring 28 of the game’s final 35 points to secure a 56-37 win in front of 34,429 fans in Corvallis.
A bye week is on deck for both the Cougars and Beavers. WSU (5-1, 2-1) will host Oregon on Oct. 20 at Martin Stadium while OSU (1-5, 0-3) will welcome Cal to Reser Stadium the same day. A win over the Ducks in two weeks would clinch WSU’s fourth consecutive postseason berth – a program first.
While the Cougars braved a few uneasy moments, the home team would have needed much more than the four touchdowns and 139 rushing yards Jefferson provided – and a variety of trick plays – to truly make WSU anxious in a late-night Pac-12 North battle.
One of the trick plays was a second-quarter reverse run from Trevon Bradford that went 56 yards, taking the Beavers down to the 3-yard line and setting up a short touchdown from Jefferson that allowed OSU to take a 24-21 lead.
But the Beavers also tried an unsuccessful onside kick and WSU linebacker Jahad Woods batted down a pass in the second quarter that came after multiple handoffs and pitches in the OSU backfield.
“I thought Oregon State did a great job of breaking out some trick plays, which they executed some of them too,” Leach said. “Usually, if you’ve got that many in your bag, you don’t end up connecting on that many. But they did.”
It was a rare freshman mistake from Jefferson that finally put the Cougars at ease in the fourth quarter. When OSU’s running back fumbled on WSU’s 4-yard line – Taylor Comfort was the one who poked it out – the ball squirted into the end zone and Jalen Thompson recovered to give Minshew and the Cougars’ offense possession with 12:16 to play.
“It was big, man,” Woods said. “We need turnovers. We need them and we try to get them any chance we get. It was big for the offense.”
The fifth touchdown of the game for Minshew, a 27-yarder to Tay Martin, came shortly thereafter and effectively sealed up a fifth victory for the Cougars.
Minshew, a fifth-year senior who came to the Cougars from East Carolina, surpassed the 2,000-yard mark on the season and threw for five touchdowns for the first time in his career. He finished with 430 passing yards, completing 30 of 40 passes.
After a rough two-week stretch, sophomore outside receiver Martin turned in two touchdowns and finished with 119 yards on eight catches.
Minshew operated a quick-strike offense on the game’s first drive, hooking up with Williams for 41 yards, then went to Easop Winston Jr. for 28 and hit Renard Bell in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-0.
It quickly became 14-0 when Kainoa Wilson blocked Luke Loecher’s punt on the next possession, allowing Tristan Brock to recover the loose pill in the back of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown – the first punt block TD for WSU since 2003.
But Jefferson and the Beavers woke up, making it 14-7 on a 6-yard scoring run. After Thompson muffed an OSU pooch punt, the hosts recovered the ball on the 7-yard line and Jefferson scampered in for another short TD to tie it at 14.
The Beavers and Cougars toggled back and forth with the lead throughout the second and third quarters, but Jefferson’s rushing touchdown of the game – a 1-yarder in the third – was the last sign of offensive life for the home team.
Freshman Cougars running back Max Borghi ran in for a 1-yard WSU touchdown with 6:37 to go in the third period to make it 35-30 and the visitors pulled away from there.
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