PULLMAN — Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew believes the Cougars are now fully focused on beating Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 28.
Last week, though, they might have been nursing their disappointment after failing to land a bid from a New Year’s Six bowl, he acknowledged.
The No. 12 Cougars staged their second bowl practice at Martin Stadium, ending a 2 1/2 -week stretch devoted chiefly to recruiting. The workout launched a series of seven practices in nine days
During the layoff, Minshew took a reading of Cougar attitudes, inside and outside the program, and figured a pep talk was in order. He told KIRO radio last week, “We’re gonna go play in the Alamo Bowl. We’re gonna be fired up about it and, if not, if we go down there sulking we’re gonna get the crap kicked out of us by Iowa State.”
Fans and players were dismayed after the Cougars (10-2) drew a No. 13 spot in the final College Football Playoff rankings, just outside the cutoff for eligibility for a New Year’s Six bowl and behind three teams with three losses. So they’re playing in San Antonio, Texas, four days before the grand theater of bowl games on the first day of 2019.
Minshew has been reminding those players and fans that Wazzu had relinquished control of the situation by losing to Washington in the Apple Cup on Nov. 23, handing the Pac-12 North title to the Huskies.
“If we win the Pac-12, we go to the Rose Bowl,” the quarterback said after Thursday night’s practice in blustery 35-degree weather. “If not, we let other people choose. So at the end of the day, we forfeited control of our own destiny. So we are where we are. We’re going to great bowl game against a really good team, so we’ve got to focus on that, quit pouting and just get back to work.”
They’ve done that, he said, beginning with a relatively brief practice Sunday. This latest session was also condensed for veterans, before scout-teamers and reserves staged a mini-scrimmage.e all in, ready go go.”
The Cougars are making their fourth straight bowl appearance, but it’s the first for Minshew, a graduate transfer from a struggling East Carolina program.
“It’s my first-ever bowl game -- I’m just looking forward to taking it all in,” he said. “It’s the first game we’ve had that I could have people back home (in Mississippi) can drive to. So I’ve got a bunch of people coming down. I’m just looking forward to the game. Iowa State, they present a lot of challenges. Very good, especially on defense. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The reason for the Cougars’ long hiatus -- just one practice in 19 days -- was the need for coaches to remain on the road preparing for the signing period that begins Wednesday, coach Mike Leach said. This is the second year the NCAA has allowed an early signing period, prior to the traditional one beginning in early February, and the Cougars are still tinkering with their approach to it.
“We’ll have quite a few sign on Wednesday,” Leach said.
Much of the layoff was a whirlwind for Minshew, who was a finalist for a number of national awards and last Friday in Baltimore was presented the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
“It was a huge honor,” he said. “The first time I remember hearing about Johnny Unitas was when Drew Brees broke his record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass. He’s kind of like the hero to all my heroes, and he was the quarterback that everybody was compared to. Coming up, that was always the measuring stick, whether you stacked up with Johnny Unitas. To win that award and meet his family was an incredible experience.”