BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Gardner Minshew II overcame a slow start and three fourth-down failures to lead No. 10 Washington State past nose-diving Colorado 31-7 on Saturday.
The Cougars (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12, No. 8 CFP) won their sixth straight, but it wasn’t as easy as expected against the Buffaloes (5-5, 2-5), who lost their fifth straight despite the return of star receiver Laviska Shenault Jr.
Shenault, who had 11 touchdowns during the Buffs’ 5-0 start, was rusty in his return from a right turf toe injury. He caught 10 passes for 102 yards but cost his team dearly with back-to-back drops and a lost fumble in the second half.
Washington State led just 10-7 at halftime, but linebacker Jahad Woods forced and recovered Travon McMillian’s fumble at the Colorado 32 on the second play of the second half and Minshew threw a 1-yard dart to Renard Bell, sparking a 21-0 run that buried the Buffs.
Minshew, who was hardly pressured all afternoon, finished 35-of-58 passing for 335 yards and two TDs. He made it 24-7 on a 10-yard scramble in the fourth quarter. That drive was kept alive when Buffs safety Aaron Maddox was flagged for taunting Easop Winston on a key third down.
In the first half, Minshew didn’t look anything like the nation’s leading passer that he is.
After having to burn a timeout before the first snap of the game and another one before the first quarter ended with Washington State still scoreless, the Cougars finally got on the board with a 39-yard field goal.
They caught a huge break when linebacker Nate Landman, the Buffs’ leading tackler, was ejected for targeting after stuffing Minshew for no gain on a second-and-1 keeper in the second quarter. Minshew ran around his left tackle and was ducking when Landman hit him.
Without Landman, who was also ejected Oct. 6 against Arizona State, the Buffs couldn’t stop the Cougars from taking a 10-7 halftime lead on running back Max Borghi’s 28-yard catch and run.
On the Cougars’ final possession of the first half, Minshew was 1 for 7 with five overthrows and a drop.
Steven Montez wasn’t much better for the Buffs. He threw at Juwann Winfree’s shoelaces when he was wide open for a huge gain to kill a drive and went into the locker room having thrown for just 67 first-half yards. He finished 20 of 35 for 199 yards.
The Buffs only crossed midfield once in their seven first-half possessions, and that came on McMillian’s 64-yard scamper to the 3. He ran it in on the next play for a 7-0 lead.
Washington State: The Cougars took their time burying the Buffaloes, but in the end, it was a solid rout thanks to their great defense and stout offensive line that kept Minshew’s jersey laundry-fresh.
Colorado: Not even the return of Shenault could kick-start the Buffs, who were still missing wide receivers Jay MacIntyre (concussion) and K.D. Nixon (hip). Time is running out for Colorado to earn bowl eligibility for just the second time in 11 seasons.
The Cougars should stay in the top 10 with the Pac-12 title in their sights, and they’re still the conference’s last hope for a College Football Playoff berth.
Washington State: Host Arizona on Nov. 17.
Colorado: Hosts Utah on Nov. 17.
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