PULLMAN – Mike Leach has tiptoed around most questions pertaining to Washington State’s quarterback job, but for the first time this camp the Cougars coach left a big hint as to who may be starting in the season opener against New Mexico State.
While it’s no certainty Anthony Gordon will start on Aug. 31 against the Aggies, Leach indicated Sunday night the redshirt senior is the clear-cut favorite to win the job, after Gordon outplayed transfer Gage Gubrud during Saturday’s scrimmage.
“If we were to play today, we’d play Gordon,” the coach said. “But we’ve got some time, too.”
Leach traditionally hasn’t announced his starting quarterbacks to the public and didn’t give reporters any significant clues last season, when Gardner Minshew beat out Gordon and Trey Tinsley in a three-man race.
Sunday, Leach suggested his team would know in a handful of days who the Cougars’ starter would be.
“I think they will,” he said.
Gordon and Gubrud posted similar numbers in Saturday’s mock game – the team’s second this fall – but Gordon was more efficient, completing 68 percent of his passes, as opposed to Gubrud’s 59 percent. Gubrud threw one more touchdown pass, but also had the scrimmage’s only interception. Gordon also had the edge in yards-per-attempt, at 7.9 compared to Gubrud’s 5.3.
“I thought Gordon played the best,” Leach said.
The Cougars were dividing QB repetitions betwen three seniors when fall camp started: Gordon and Tinsley, former junior college players who arrived in Pullman ahead of the 2016 season and spent three seasons learning underneath Luke Falk, Tyler Hilinski and Gardner Minshew, and Gubrud, a former FCS All-American who joined the Cougars in February but had his growth in the Air Raid offense stunted by a lower-body injury suffered before spring camp.
Gordon fared better than Tinsley in the Crimson & Gray Game, completing 21 of 30 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Gubrud re-entered the picture when fall camp started and Leach narrowed the competition to two players – Gubrud and Gordon – after the first scrimmage.
Reps were evenly distributed throughout the week and Thursday was when Gordon began to pull away, completing 9 of 14 passes with two touchdowns and one rushing touchdown during a team period, while Gubrud was 5 of 11 with one touchdown. Gordon’s precision and production was better than Gubrud’s the next day, when he completed 8 of 11 for four touchdowns, compared to Gubrud, who was 7 of 11 for one touchdown.
“He’s real comfortable back there,” Leach said. “He’s played real comfortable and he’s been on kind of a roll for the last week and a half, so I think he’s done a real good job.”
Leach also praised Gordon’s ability to operate and deliver with consistency. The Pacifica, Calif., native hasn’t been intercepted since day No. 5 of fall camp, and he’s thrown 25 touchdowns since that juncture.
“I think he’s continued to improve,” Leach said. “The biggest thing is consistency. He’s gotten consistent, he’s always been able to unload the ball quickly and he’s gotten real steady with his reads. He’s done a really good job reading the field.”
Gubrud still faces an uphill battle as it relates to winning Washington State’s starting quarterback job, but the sixth-year graduate transfer’s name was nonetheless included on the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award watch list released Monday.
Gubrud is one 49 quarterbacks to earn a spot on the list and one of nine from the Pac-12 Conference to be included. Players must be redshirt juniors or seniors to be eligible for the award.
After a record-setting season for the Cougars last season, Gardner Minshew became the first WSU player to win the Johnny Unitas award, and former WSU quarterback Luke Falk was a finalist in 2016.
Gubrud, the Eastern Washington transfer and former FCS All-American, enrolled at WSU in February and seemed to be the early favorite to replace Minshew as the starter, considering his body of work at the FCS level and the fact the Cougars didn’t have another QB on the roster with a single career start.