Gardner Minshew was on his way to Alabama to hold a clipboard for a year before beginning his coaching career. It seemed like the right path for Minshew, who had a year of eligibility left after graduating from East Carolina as a part-time starter at quarterback.
He knew he wouldn’t play at Alabama, but he wanted to go into coaching and hoped to learn everything he could from Nick Saban and his staff. Saban told Minshew he would hire him as a graduate assistant in 2019.
Then Washington State coach Mike Leach made the call that changed Minshew’s life: “How would you like to lead the nation in passing?” Leach asked him.
Minshew took the bait and has guided the Cougars to unimaginable heights. He now is a serious Heisman candidate and a legitimate NFL prospect. Minshew has throw for 4,325 yards and 36 touchdowns in leading Wazzu to 10-1 record. He set a school record with seven TD passes Saturday in a 69-28 victory over Arizona.
He also is cult hero to Wazzu fans, thanks to his mustache that’s the new symbol of greatness for the school. He is a guy having fun and it shows, even placing one of the famous fake mustaches on Leach during a live postgame interview.
It couldn’t have come at a better time for a school that was mourning the January suicide of WSU quarterback Tyler Hilinski. The term “godsend” is used far too often. In this case, what better way to describe what Minshew has done for Wazzu.
Now the season of his life comes down to the game of his life. It’s rivalry week in college football. No matter what has gone wrong in the season, it’s a chance for your favorite team to win against the team you hate.
The biggest game in the Pac-12 this year is the Apple Cup, Washington-Washington State on Friday in Pullman. The Huskies are a disappointing 8-3 after being mentioned as possible national championship contenders when the season started.
As it turns out, the Cougars are the national title contenders, something no one would have dreamed possible in September. However, it all can end with a loss to the Huskies, who have won the last five Apple Cup games. The winner Friday is the Pac-12 North champion.
UW fans don’t want to hear it and don’t care, of course, but it’s much better for the image and the reputation of the conference if WSU wins. The Pac-12 has taken quite a beating nationally and often is viewed as the weak link of the Power-5 conferences.
The Pac-12 was 1-8 last year in bowl games, the worst record for any conference ever in the playoff era. WSU can bring some much needed respect to the Pac-12 by winning Friday and going on to win the Pac-12 title game to stay in the playoff picture.
And Minshew likely would remain in the Heisman talk. Not bad for a guy who thought his playing days were over.
Minshew probably will lose the Heisman battle to Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, the guy Minshew would have watched from the sidelines. Now he may sit with Tua in New York as a Heisman finalist.
A lesson to us all of how life can change for the better.
It’s time to end the tradition of the Lions and the Cowboys always hosting Thanksgiving games. Why should we have to watch two teams that haven’t won anything in a million years stink up our holiday?
I posted this on Twitter and Facebook, which riled up all the fans of both team, but especially Cowboys nation. I do like it when fans defend their teams and stick with them whether they are good or bad.
For me growing up in Houston, the Cowboys usually were much better than the Oilers. And I hated all the bandwagon jumpers in Houston who rooted for the Cowboys and the expense of their home team. Still do.
I’m all for tradition when it makes sense. This doesn’t. Two Thanksgiving games indoors for so-so teams is a bigger yawn that turkey tryptophan.
SEATTLE – Two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL went at it Thursday night and it was a match-up worth watching.
Both Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers had great moments and head-scratching moments during the 27-24 Seattle victory over Green Bay.
Here are five things we learned, starting with the QBs:
No one is perfect
Rodgers had some typical wow plays we’ve become accustomed to seeing from him. The biggest was a scramble to his right in the first quarter when he launched a 54-yard touchdown pass to tight end Robert Tonyan, who was racing down the middle of the field and caught the perfect throw at the 1.
Rodgers also had a 57-yard completion to Davante Adams in the fourth quarter. What’s amazing about Rodgers is his ability to throw deep balls accurately off his back foot while being pressured.
However, in the end, Rodgers proved he’s mortal. On a third-and-2 at the Green Bay 33, Rodgers saw Marquez Valdes-Scantling open in the right flat for what would have been a first down, but Rodgers threw the ball into the turf. He later said the ball got stuck in his hand.
Wilson started the game the way Rodgers ended it. Wilson had a few wildly inaccurate throws, including one in the first quarter that may have been the worst pass of his career.
Doug Baldwin was all alone in the middle of the end zone on a second-and-12 at the Green Bay 21 when Wilson’s throw sailed behind Baldwin and about 10 feet over his head.
“Sometimes you shoot and miss,’’ Wilson said. “The ball bounces off the rim, but you just keep shooting. I know what I’m capable of. You stay the course.”
He did and it worked. As he has done so many times in his career, Wilson led the Seahawks on a game-winning 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. It included two deep throws to Tyler Lockett, one for 18 yards and one for 35 yards, before the 15-yard TD pass to tight end Ed Dickson on a vertical throw to the goal line.
Utah State linebackers put on a show
Bobby Wagner and Kyler Fackrell were the two best linebackers on the field. Both played college ball at Utah State.
Wagner is considered one of the best, if not the best, middle linebacker in the game. Fackrell is just starting to show how good he can be. Wagner had a team-best nine tackles for the Seahawks, including a bone-jarring hit on an Aaron Jones run up the middle in the second quarter.
Fackrell had three sacks and another tackle in the backfield for Green Bay.
Wagner noticed: “I said on the sideline, ‘Man, y’all are letting Utah State be all over the field.’ He was a freshman my last year. You could tell then what he was gonna do.”
Time to pay Frank Clark
Two more sacks for Clark Thursday give him 10 in 11 games, tying his career high. He has 29 sacks in the last three seasons, but this is his first year as a full-time starter.
He’s in the last year of his rookie contract, so it is great timing. The Seahawks should sign Clark to a multi-year deal before the season ends. That could mean that Clark gets the money the team needs to re-sign linebacker K.J. Wright. If it’s one or the other, Clark is the easy choice.
The three-headed running back system is working for the Seahawks
Chris Carson, Rashard Penny and Mike Davis combined for 155 yards rushing on 29 carries. All three contributed in a big way.
Penny had a wild 30-yard run in the first quarter where he changed direction in the backfield, swept around the left side, turned back up field, breaking four tackles in the process. He sprained his ankle on the play, but later returned.
Carson fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, which led to a easy touchdown for the Packers, but he finished 83 yards and one TD on 17 carries. Carson also had a bulldozer run in the fourth quarter where he saved a field-goal scoring drive on a third-and-1 at the Green Bay 31. Carson turned a 2-yard loss into a 12-yard gain, turning back up field and bowling over Packers.
And Davis was the clock-killing back on the final drive when the Seahawks needed to drain four minutes off the clock. He rushed for 17 yards on three carries, including a 7-yard run for a first down that assured the victory.
Horrible clock management by the Packers
Green Bay used its second timeout of the second half with 10:31 to go in the game. The Packers had to punt the ball back to Seattle with 4:11 to play. Green Bay used its last time out with 3:18 to go. Even with the 2-minute warning, Seattle only needed one more first down to end it.
Davis’ first-down run came with 2:34 left. That was it. After the 2-minute warning, Wilson only needed to kneel three times to win the game.
Time for another edition of my Sports Walk of Shame and Sports Hall of Honor. Three of the six entries involve the Los Angeles Rams.
First, three new entries into the Walk of Shame:
The holier-than-thou conference scheduled meaningless powder-puff games in mid-November. The playoff committee should penalize any school that does this for an easy victory.
Here is the list for Nov. 17:
The Citadel at Alabama
Idaho at Florida
Liberty at Auburn
UMass at Georgia
Rice at LSU
UAB at Texas A&M
Chattanooga at South Carolina
And I really hope one of the underdogs wins.
LA Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald
After the 36-31 victory over the Seahawks ended Sunday at the Coliseum, Donald was on the sideline. Instead shaking hands with the opponents and just walking to the locker room, Donald put his helmet back on and jogged across the field to confront Seattle center Justin Britt.
During he game, Britt shoved Donald moments after Donald stepped out of bounds while running downfield. That caused the first altercation between them. Who knows what happened in the trenches, but putting your helmet back on after the game to start an altercation doesn’t exactly make you look tough or brave.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy
After defensive back Thabo Mwaniki announced he was transferring from OSU, Gundy went on a rant about all transfers, saying it’s “liberalism” and being a “snowflake”.
Obviously, Gundy is injecting his political opinions, which is fine, except in this case it’s not appropriate.
For years, college athletes were glorified slaves to the school they signed with initially, regardless of how they were treated or how much they played. Now coaches like Gundy are all butt-hurt and whine over players opting to try to improve their situation.
But no one says anything about coaches, many of whom like Gundy ($5 million in 2018) make millions of dollars, leaving one school for another to make more money or coach at a bigger and better school. They also leave behind all the kids they recruited and no doubt made assurances to about signing with that school.
And ending on a high not, here are entries into the Sports Hall of Honor:
The Rams front office
After learning the team would get an extra home game Monday night because the field in Mexico City is a quagmire, the Rams announced they would give away tickets to first responders to the California fires and the shooting in Thousand Oaks.
Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth
Whitworth donated his game check Sunday – a whopping $540,000 -- to the victims of the Thousand Oaks shooting.
Matt and Sybi Kucher
PGA golfer Zach Johnson had a big problem when his caddie, Damon Green, fell ill in the middle of the opening round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic last week in Mexico.
No worries. Matt Kuchar said his wife, Sybi, would be happy to step in and carry the bag for Johnson. Sybi is no amateur. She has caddied for her husband several times over the years.
Call it karma, but Matt went on to win the tournament, his first PGA Tour victory in four years.
At the halfway point of the season, here’s one comment from me on each NFL team:
Chiefs (8-1) _ Sorry Tom Brady and Todd Gurley, Patrick Mahomes is the best player in the league.
Chargers (6-2) _ Old man Rivers just keeps rolling along, but you would think he’d be over the whole talking trash and whining thing at this point.
Broncos (3-6) _ Vance Joseph, tick-tock, tick-tock.
Raiders (1-7) _ Sitting in that MNF booth never looked so good, right Chucky?
Patriots (7-2) _ Cordarrelle Patterson can play running back and Josh Gordon can look almost like a normal person. Who knew? Bill Belichick, apparently.
Dolphins (5-4) _ Did you know this team can perform magic tricks? They are 28th in offense and 26th in defense, but one game over .500. Abrakadabra.
Jets (3-6) _ Yes, money talks, but Sam Darnold should have stayed another year at USC.
Bills (2-7) _ Quarterback Nathan Peterman is playing in the NFL and Colin Kaepernick isn’t. Nuff said.
Texans (6-3) _ Six consecutive wins after starting 0-3. As long as Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt stay healthy, this team can surprise people.
Titans (4-4) _ Good to be .500 when you’re 30th in total offense.
Colts (3-5) _ Linebacker Darius Leonard is the defensive rookie of the year with a league-leading 88 tackles.
Jaguars (3-5) _ Still a good defense. Still a terrible quarterback.
Steelers (6-2-1) _ Dropped 52 on Carolina Thursday night. And James Conner has one question. Le’ Veon who?
Bengals (5-3) _ Surprising record for a team dead last in total defense.
Ravens (4-5) _ No. 1 defense in yards allowed and No. 2 in points allowed. I think we know which side of the ball is the problem.
Browns (2-6-1) _ No truth to the rumor and interim head coach Gregg Williams has an endorsement from Bounty paper towels.
Rams (8-1) _ If there is one person who can bring them down is cornerback Marcus Peters. He’s been worse than awful. Aqib Talib can’t get back soon enough.
Seahawks (4-4) _ Should have traded safety Earl Thomas when they had the chance. It’s only eight games, but admit it. You’re getting a little concerned that first-round pick Rashard Penny is a bust. Yes, that’s two comments.
Cardinals (2-6) _ Should have traded disgruntled cornerback Patrick Peterson off a team going nowhere.
49ers (2-7) _ Quite a debut for quarterback Nick Mullens, but your great granny could have thrown for a couple of TDs against the Raiders.
Bears (5-3) _ Best record in the division despite having the fourth-best quarterback in Mitch Trubisky.
Vikings (5-3-1) _ Does anything prove the point more on how the draft is a crapshoot than undrafted wide receiver Adam Thielen?
Packers (3-4-1) _ Former Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham has two TDs this season. Current Seahawks tight ends have four TDs.
Lions (3-5) _ Gave up 10 sacks last week in a loss to the Vikings. Apparently, no one was open after trading Golden Tate.
Redskins (5-3) _ I’ll have some of whatever Adrian Peterson is drinking these days.
Eagles (4-4) _ Ranking 25th in the league in pass defense is no way to return to the Super Bowl.
Cowboys (3-5) _ Can we just put on a loop Jerry Jones saying Jason Garrett is safe?
Giants (1-7) _ Can’t run the ball and can’t stop the run, a recipe for disaster.
Saints (7-1) _ One day after he arrives, Dez Bryant is done with a torn Achilles tendon. Bad for Dez, but maybe not so bad for the Saints. You have a great receiver in Michael Thomas and you just beat the previously unbeaten Rams. Why risk great team chemistry by signing looney Dez Bryant?
Panthers (6-3) _ Thursday’s 52-21 drubbing in Pittsburgh was ugly, but my favorite part of any Carolina game is Cam Newton’s post-game attire.
Falcons (4-4) _ Good decision to add Bruce Irvin to the defense.
Buccaneers (3-5) _ Does it really matter which quarterback they start?