In the middle of WSU’s 69-28 drubbing of Kevin Sumlin’s Wildcats, there was an absolutely obscene onside kick recovery that served as a perfect reminder that was the perfect reminder for how amazing this season has been.
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 18, 2018
Even the return of their struggles in the third quarter did not stop the Cougars from picking up an easy 41-point home win in what appeared to be a trap game, with the Apple Cup looming six days down the road. Instead the Cougs raced off to a 14-0 lead and never let the Wildcats back into the game after that. WSU was so dominant despite the fact that Khalil Tate looked like his 2017, and was practically unstoppable (at times).
This season has been nothing short of miraculous, which an onside kick recovered for a touchdown demonstrates — you can’t advance an onside kick if you recover it, so to score it had to be recovered in the endzone. From Gardner Minshew’s ability to stay calm in game winning drives (Utah, Stanford); to the defense’s ability to generate pressure, despite the lack of size upfront. New defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys decision to maintain a similar scheme with the same terminology and signals was arguably the best decision that anyone associated with this program has made since Mike Leach was hired.
The only blemish on Washington State’s record is that USC game, where its third quarter woes led to the Cougs coughing up a decent halftime lead.
It was pretty obvious after the Wyoming game that this squad was going to be different. The offense struggled throughout the first half, and the Cowboys offense was able to march around the field with very little interference from the defense. Everything was going about as well as was expected after the tumultuous offseason that this squad had. Then, in arguably the only good third quarter of the season, the offense started to click; the defense buckled down, and Wyoming opened up the season with an unexpected 19-point loss.
For me, it was the Eastern Washington game that made me realize this squad was something special. The defense was able to suffocate a quarterback that had humiliated them in Pullman two years ago. Even though this unit didn’t appear to be better than the 2017 edition, it was still good enough to consistently get the ball back into the hands of the offense.
That’s something Claey’s squad has been able to do consistently this season. Which has been the second biggest surprise of the season for WSU.
Obviously the biggest surprise this season has been Minshew himself. The Mississippi Mustache has been absolutely unstoppable since the first half of the season’s first game. Even Justin Wilcox’s defense wasn’t able to force a stupid number of turnovers, something Mike Leach quarterbacks have struggled with against the Golden Bears’ head coach.
But what’s been most remarkable about this season is the circumstances this program, and the individuals on this squad, faced during the off-season. Leach almost bolted for Tennessee, the entire defensive coaching staff left for greener pastures, and Tyler Hilinski took his own life. The fortitude that this squad has shown is something that no one should expect from any group of people…let alone college kids with an uncertain future after graduation. It speaks to the work that Leach has done to install a culture and expectation of being there for each other, and winning, that this team is now one win away from its first division title.
What a fan-fucking-tastic ride this season has been, no matter what happens on Black Friday.