The Cougars breezed past the Spartans 31-0 behind three passing and one rushing touchdowns from Gardner Minshew and the defense held the Spartans to 109 total yards on a night the school honored deceased quarterback Tyler Hilinski.
PULLMAN — Gardner Minshew’s touchdown-to-interception ratio may have been a concerning statistic some other night, but on Saturday, against an opponent like San Jose State that didn’t seem to care for the quarterback’s gifts, the WSU signal-caller could probably afford to give a few.
Both of Minshew’s interceptions came when this was still just a two-touchdown game, but the graduate transfer’s defense did him more than a few favors in the home opener, conceding just 109 yards to preserve a 31-0 shutout against the offensively inept Spartans in front of an announced crowd of 26,141 at Martin Stadium.
After SJSU coach Brent Brennan touted the Cougars’ defensive backs during a midweek news conference, the Spartans hardly went at them during Saturday’s game, throwing just 25 passes after airing it out 52 times the week before in a loss to UC Davis.
In theory, the ground seemed like a more viable option for the Spartans. It wasn’t.
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SJSU recorded 23 rushing attempts which only netted them 9 yards, in part because the WSU defense spent most of the evening loitering in the Spartans’ backfield and sacked quarterback Montel Aaron five times for a loss of 31 yards.
When Minshew did give the ball over to the Spartans, once in the first quarter and again in the second, they returned it four plays later. Both of the offensive drives that followed his interceptions were three-and-outs in a game SJSU managed just eight first downs, as opposed to 27 for WSU (2-0).
And Minshew, by the end of it, still did more than enough for his offense, passing for 410 yards on 34 of 51 for three touchdowns – two of which went to talented sophomore receiver Tay Martin in the first quarter.
Minshew also flashed his wheels throughout the game, scoring on a read-option the final play of the first half in which the QB motioned a handoff to running back Max Borghi before pulling it into his own arms and running for a 1-yard score.
Travell Harris was Minshew’s most common receiver, hauling in six passes for 83 yards, while Martin had six for 68 yards and the two touchdowns.
Cougars honor Hilinski
They opened the day with a memorial walk through one of his favorite outdoor sanctuaries, and finished it atop a metal podium inside of the other.
Hilinski’s parents, Mark and Kym, and brothers Kelly and Ryan took part in an emotionally-stirring moment before Washington State’s home opener, raising a crimson flag in the east end zone amid a chorus of cheers just minutes before the Cougars kicked off at Martin Stadium.
Earlier Saturday morning, the Hilinski family led a hike through Kamiak Butte County Park, a nearby recreation area Tyler often visited during his leisure while he was a quarterback and student at Washington State.
From freshly-painted blue and purple suicide awareness ribbons on the field at Martin Stadium, to the Hilinski’s Hope foundation flag planted behind the west end zone, to T-shirts bearing his No. 3 and rally towels scattered throughout the crowd, there were plenty of symbols reminding folks of Hilinski on a day that was clearly dedicated to the QB who took his own life in January.
As the Hilinski family acknowledged the applause from the fans in attendance, public-address announcer Glenn Johnson read off a statement as the Cougar flag was lifted into the air:
“Washington State University would like to use this opportunity to bring awareness to mental health issues and remind all that if you need help, please ask.”
Members of WSU’s fraternities and sororities wore T-shirts printed with the slogan “Greek for Tyler” and on the east end zone video board, the school aired a pregame public service announcement addressing suicide prevention and mental health awareness.
An ESPN College GameDay segment featuring senior writer Ivan Maisel, who lost his son Max to suicide three years ago, and the Hilinski family aired on the weekly television program and No. 3 flags flew through a large crowd behind the GameDay set in College Station, Texas.