The final play began with a botched shotgun snap and ended with a touchdown pass. It summed up the day rather nicely.
The timing of Washington State’s passing game was far from perfect Saturday as the Cougars opened the Lewiston portion of preseason football camp in calm, 92-degree conditions at Sacajawea Junior High. But offense and defense alike showed the type of resilience you might expect of a team coming off its first 11-win season in school history.
Gage Gubrud, the graduate transfer who Cougar fans are hoping is the next Gardner Minshew, alternated with Anthony Gordon in skeleton and team drills, and both quarterbacks sometimes struggled with defenders who seemed to know the offensive playbook as well as they did.
But they repeatedly bounced back. On that final team-period play near the goal line, for example, Gubrud scooped up the muffed snap, scrambled to his right in a way that mirrored the instincts of senior receiver Easop Winston Jr., then fired him a dart to the right edge of the end zone.
“He made two plays on scramble drill — I thought that was good,” coach Mike Leach said of Gubrud, who transferred from Eastern Washington and missed spring drills with an injury. “He’s doing some good things out there. I thought all the quarterbacks have been really competitive.”
The dynamics were similar during Gordon’s half of team period. The low point for him came on a last-second decision to wave off a slant and instead throw for Travell Harris on a post route. It looked like a interesting idea until the ball sailed into the arms of safety Daniel Isom. But Gordon also completed a bomb to slotback Renard Bell during that series.
“That one interception is really going to stick with me, of course,” Gordon said. “The mistakes always outweigh the positives. I was trying to be a little too smart, and checked out of a play that coach had, which is a pretty bad idea.”
Actually, the QB who masters the art of audibling in Leach’s system might be the one who succeeds Minshew as starter. As planned, Leach is featuring two quarterbacks each day, intending over the course of several workouts to spread the reps evenly between Gordon, Gubrud and Trey Tinsley. In the opening segment of camp Friday in Pullman, Gubrud and Tinsley were foregrounded.
“I thought his check was fine,” Leach said of Gordon’s interception. “He shouldn’t have forced the ball to the post. That was the biggest thing. He had it initially. He just needs to put it out there. And if he doesn’t have that, throw the slant.”
As Gordon suggested, when Leach’s Air Raid offense is running smoothly, it tends to lengthen the game, perhaps making it easier for a QB to shrug off mistakes.
“In this offense, you run 60 to 80 plays a game,” he said. “So one play doesn’t dictate a whole game.”
In addition, “I saw how Gardner handled himself the entire year, and saw his leadership and poise,” Gordon said of Minshew, “and that really stuck with me. So I’ve been working toward elevating myself in that aspect.”
In several drills, young defensive backs did their best to assuage offseason worries about their positions, exacerbated by the news this summer that safety Jalen Thompson had lost his senior season because of NCAA violations. Skyler Thomas continued to sparkle in his new position of nickelback, and sophomore cornerbacks Derrick Langford and Armani Marsh stung both quarterbacks with well-timed breakups.
Jamire Calvin, the slotback who missed spring workouts with an unspecified injury, was present Saturday but skipped live action. Among the newcomers on hand was Trey Davis, a former USC cornerback who has transferred to Wazzu as a walk-on.
The Cougars will work out daily at 2 p.m. in Lewiston through Thursday.