At least for tonight, there is a new sheriff out west and his name is Gardner Minshew II.
The much-traveled graduate transfer quarterback guided Washington State to a stunningly thorough 34-20 upset of Oregon Saturday night, much to the delight of delirious fanbase on full throttle with ESPN sending its Game Day crew all the way out to Pullman, Washington in recognition of the Pac-12 North showdown.
Minshew entered the game as the country’s top-rated passer, averaging 403.7 yards per contest and leading the Pac-12 in completions, yards and touchdowns and yet, understandably much of the pre-game from an NFL scouting perspective focused on Oregon’s toolsy junior Justin Herbert, the most gifted quarterback prospect potentially available for the 2019 NFL draft.
It was Minshew and the Cougars who controlled this game from the outset, however, with the 6-1, 220 pound redshirt senior tossing three of his four touchdowns in the first half as WSU raced out to a stunning 27-0 lead.
While it is true that Mike Leach's offense creates some easy throws for his quarterbacks, Minshew delivered some beautiful throws, including this pearl.
For nearly the entire first half, Herbert and his teammates looked like Ducks out of water, perhaps to be expected after an emotional win over hated rival Washington last week.
Shaking off that potential Husky hangover, Herbert rallied the troops in the second half, delivering lasers on crossing routes and to the sidelines to give him a respectable 270 yards and a score on 25 of 40 passing as Oregon closed to 27-20 in the fourth quarter.
Minshew made sure that was as close as things would get.
Showing off the deft touch and poise that previously led to his being honored as the Senior Bowl’s Offensive Player of Week Six, Minshew delivered a perfect 22-yard strike to Dezmon Patton, staking WSU to the 34-20 lead they’d never relinquish.
Prior to Saturday night’s game, I caught up with new Senior Bowl chief executive Jim Nagy, asking him specifically about his thoughts on Minshew (at the 34:55 mark) in the latest episode of the Instinctive Scouting Podcast, which I host each week with two-time NFL general manager Scot McCloughan.
Nagy, a former NFL scout with nearly 20 years experience, called Minshew’s breakout performance, explaining that scouts have been buzzing about the one-time Alabama recruit.
“I had scouting buddies on the west coast tell me, ‘Hey, you might want to check out this kid from Washington State, he’s tearing it up out here…” Nagy said.
“He’s a really natural thrower, Nagy continues. "He’s really accurate, even when his feet aren’t right. There are a lot of guys need to have their feet right to be accurate there were a couple of times in that game that he didn’t have to do that…”
If Minshew can keep up his impressive play, Nagy may soon be asking him to throw for him at the Senior Bowl in January, where fellow Cougar and Mike Leach protégé Luke Falk helped his draft stock a year ago.