BY MICAH WRIGHT
If there was one word to describe Washington State’s season, it would be record-breaking (that counts since it has a hyphen, right?).
The 13th-ranked Cougars capped off an incredible year with a 28-26 win over No. 24 Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl, giving them a school record 11 wins on the season, showing the brilliance of Mike freaking Leach.
Here’s a little background about the program prior to Leach:
There was virtually no sustained success on the football field until Mike Price was hired in 1989. In the Price era (1989-2002), the program saw two quarterbacks get drafted Top-two overall with Drew Bledsoe (first in 1993) and Ryan Leaf (second in 1998).
Price brought prominence to a program that had only been to three bowl games and one Rose Bowl all time. He proceeded to take them to two Rose Bowls (1997 and 2002), and though they lost both, it let the nation and the then-Pac-10 know Washington State was finally a legit program.
The year after Price left, they went 10-3 with a Holliday Bowl win. But from 2004-2011, the Cougars went 29-66 (.305) with three 10-loss seasons after just one up until that point in their history. This quickly made Pullman become the laughingstock of the Pac-12.
If only there was someone who could revive Wazzu…
Enter offensive mastermind Mike Leach, who they brought in as the head coach in 2012 — three years after Texas Tech fired him following accusations about how he handled a player with a concussion in practice. He was a great coach at Tech, with no losing seasons in all 10 years.
Essentially, the Cougars left their dumpster fire program up to Leach to fix, as he took over a mid-major program in a power-five conference. He has gone to five bowl games in seven years and won 37 games in the last four — more than any coach in program history. You can tell that to your fat little girlfriend.
This year has perhaps been Leach’s best coaching job, tying his career high of 11 wins — all while doing so without the talent he had in 2008 at Texas Tech when he went 11-2. Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew is just one example of Leach’s brilliance.
Like he has done his whole career, Leach used his air-raid offensive scheme to develop the senior transfer into the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and a potential NFL Draft pick this April. Minshew guided the offense to 37.5 points per game (15th in FBS) and tied the school record of 38 touchdown passes formerly held by his predecessor Luke Falk.
Minshew came in from East Carolina, but his numbers weren’t too enticing there: 3,487 passing yards, 24 TDs, 11 INTs, and a 57.9 percent completion percentage in 17 career games.
Good ol’ air-raid Mike brought him in and made Minshew a distant Heisman candidate with his nation-leading 468 completions, 4,776 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and nine interceptions, all while completing 70.7 percent of his passes in 13 games this year.
Minshew capped off a great year with his 299 passing yards, two touchdown passes, a rushing score and no turnovers against a stout Iowa State defense in the Cougars’ Alamo Bowl victory. Though Minshew was the star of the team, he didn’t have to carry the Cougars like their quarterbacks usually have to.
Leach’s teams haven’t exactly been known for their defense, but this year’s team was a solid unit in first-year defensive coordinator’s Tracy Claeys’ scheme. They allowed 23.3 points per game (42nd in FBS), the fewest in Leach’s tenure, while also ranking 16th in the country with 38 sacks. The Cougars’ 23 forced turnovers helped guide the team to the 20th-ranked turnover margin in the country at +8 — a huge part of their success.
If you thought a Mike Leach team was dangerous because of their offense, how dangerous are they if they’re playing complimentary football? The future is very bright for the Cougars, and with most of their starters returning on both sides, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be a legitimate threat next year both in the conference and nationally.
Heading into 2019-20, the obvious loss is Minshew; but Redshirt Junior Anthony Gordon, or whoever steps in as the starting quarterback, should have no problem taking over with Leach’s guidance. I mean, Graham Harrell is top-four in pass yards and touchdowns all time.
Do you think Harrell could’ve done that with any other coach? Heck no. You could put in 42-year-old Cougar great Ryan Leaf (forever known as an NFL bust) and I’m pretty sure he would throw for 5,000 yards and at least 40 Touchdowns with Leach’s offense. Drew Bledsoe would probably have 6,000 yards and 50 TDs.
All joking aside, Leach has always produced offensively no matter who’s quarterbacking, and that should continue as long as he’s at the helm.
It was definitely a season to remember for the Cougars, who won their first ever division title this season. Their year pretty much came down to the matchup with Washington in Week 13, which they lost 28-15 in a crazy blizzard.
A win in the Apple Cup would’ve clenched a Pac-12 championship berth and a likely Rose Bowl berth. Though it would’ve been nice to add a conference title to their amazing season, the Cougars sure have a lot to be happy about knowing they were an elite program in college football that will likely finish in the Top-10 in the CFP and AP polls.
Ke Wazzu, baby.