At this time last year, Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew was a little known signal caller at East Carolina University. In planning for his graduate transfer season, Minshew committed to Alabama with the understanding that he’d likely spend his final year of eligibility as a backup on the bench behind Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts. He hoped to get groomed for a eventual coaching role down the road.
But then tragedy struck in Pullman with heir apparent Tyler Hylinski committing suicide, leaving the team with a large question mark at the position. Quarterback whisperer and Cougars head coach Mike Leach called Minshew and asked him one simple question: “Do you want to lead the country in passing?” and the rest is history.
Fast forward several months and Minshew isn’t just the nations leading passer in yards, but also completion percentage. Part of his success can be attributed to the quarterback friendly dynamic of Leach’s Air Raid offense where he puts them in a position to make high percentage throws.
This very offensive system has given Colorado trouble in the past three matchups against the Cougars dating back to 2015, where they’re averaging 26.3 PPG. When asked about what makes this offense so successful and hard to stop, Head Coach Mike MacIntyre acknowledged that having a player with Minshew’s skillset allows the team to cut the ball loose.
“I think number one the quarterback is the key - he knows where to go with the ball. [Minshew] can make all the throws from one hash to the other sideline, the deep throws, MacIntyre said. “Number two their execution of [the Air Raid], they’re very good at executing what they do and with their offensive line nobody get’s near him that much.”
Coach Mac brings up an excellent point. Washington State’s offense thrives off five receiver sets, getting several reads wide open, and winning the battle up front in pass protection. Something that’s stuck out to the players on film is that Minshew isn’t afraid to take shots down the field or throw the football - which has led to the grad transfer throwing for a whopping 390.7 YPG. He makes up for his lack of mobility by making accurate touch throws from within the pocket.
“He’s talented and he’s a great pocket passer and from what I’ve seen he doesn’t like to run as much as last week’s quarterback did,” Linebacker Drew Lewis said. “He has a powerful arm so we need to lock down our defensive backs to stop that.”
Speaking of defensive backs, that’ll be one area where Colorado will need to improve if they want any shot at pulling off an upset on Saturday. The past two games, the secondary has been scorched for 695 yards and eight touchdowns by two mediocre quarterbacks. OSU’s Jake Luton had five career touchdown passes heading into the game two weeks ago before tossing three in a half against the Buffs. Khalil Tate’s struggles in Kevin Sumlin’s pro-style system were well documented before he had a career night through the air last week.
No matter how you cut it, this is a unit that needs to step up. And with the best quarterback in the conference coming to town, the improvements will need to come at warp speed. The defensive backs need to allow less seperation with the receivers and find a way to turn the ball over.
With a reeling and banged up secondary, one can only imagine that Leach will design a pass-heavy gameplan that allows Minshew to exploit Colorado’s biggest weakness. Regardless of the scrutiny the unit is under, you can guarantee one thing: neither party will hold back in attacking them. Only time will tell if the defense is up to their biggest test of the year.