PULLMAN — Somewhere in the gloom of a Palouse rainstorm, the Cougars rediscovered their Speed D.
Somehow, they didn’t lose their Air Raid offense in the process.
Washington State’s embattled defense intercepted three passes and Anthony Gordon threw four touchdowns as the Cougars shrugged off incessantly wet conditions to subdue Colorado 41-10 on Saturday at Martin Stadium.
In their second game under interim defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni and top assistant Darcel McBath, WSU defenders capitalized on steady rainfall to hold the Buffaloes to three first-half points and twice intercept Steven Montez, the second most prolific quarterback in CU history.
“The defense played unreal today,” Gordon said. “Great to see them finally get back to their form, what they’re capable of, and to see them get a little inspiration over there. Coach Roc and coach McBath did an unbelievable job getting the energy right over there.”
The past three weeks have been turbulent for the WSU defense, which saw second-year coordinator Tracy Claeys stunningly resign after back-to-back losses to UCLA and Utah before an improved performance under Bellantoni went for naught in a 38-34 loss at Arizona State.
“Last week was such a disappointment, because we worked extremely hard. I mean, we worked our butt off,” said linebacker Jahad Woods, who had seven tackles and a sack in this one. “It was definitely reassuring and satisfying that we got the win tonight.”
But Skyler Thomas broke the Cougars’ 10-quarter streak without a takeaway by jumping a pass route for a first-quarter interception of Montez, then George Hicks III followed with an end-zone theft in the second. Marcus Strong added an interception of backup Blake Stenstrom in the fourth.
“We played hard for the entire game,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “Not mistake-free, but we had good energy on all sides of the ball.
“I think we’re emerging defensively. I think we’ve simplified some things. I think we’re still kind of coming together there a little bit, honestly. I think defensively some of our best football is ahead of us.”
The Cougars (4-3, 1-3) broke a three-game losing streak, notched their first Pac-12 win since Nov. 17, 2018, and reassured fans who fear the program’s streak of four consecutive bowl berths is in jeopardy. Wazzu needs to win two of its final five games to be bowl-eligible.
The rain led to several drops by WSU receivers, but Gordon still completed 35 of 51 passes for 369 yards and one interception, and he got plenty of help from two of his favorite security blankets.
He looked frequently for Max Borghi, who had a career-high nine receptions and two total touchdowns, including one on a remarkable 47-yard run. Gordon also relished the return of slotback Brandon Arconado, who had missed two-plus games with an undisclosed injury but scarcely missed a beat, grabbing five passes for 109 yards and a 44-yard score.
“We definitely did a pretty good job moving the ball as an offense, given the conditions,” Gordon said. “When you accept to come play football here, you know it’s definitely a possibility. As you guys may know, we’ve had spring practices, spring scrimmages in weather similar to this. So we were accustomed to it and we weren’t going to let the weather be a factor.”
The Buffaloes (3-4, 1-3) absorbed their third consecutive loss as an injury-depleted secondary struggled to keep a lid of Gordon and the Air Raid.
“Defensively, it just took us too long to settle down,” Buffaloes coach Mel Tucker said. “Early in the game we had missed tackles, we had some missed assignments and we weren’t able to get off the field on third down.”
Colorado’s most reliable weapon was Alex Fontenot, who ran for 105 yards.
The Buffaloes cut their deficit to 24-10 early in the third quarter before Gordon threw scoring passes to Arconado and Tay Martin on back-to-back series to make it 38-10 early in the fourth.
The rain was relatively light early in the game, and the Cougars took advantage by producing touchdowns on their first three possessions, with Borghi providing the highlight with his long, tackle-breaking romp late in the first quarter. Borghi finished with 105 yards rushing.
Gordon also drilled a 22-yard touchdown pass to Dezmon Patmon to capitalize on an interception and 19-yard runback by Thomas.
The Wazzu offense stalled in the second quarter as the wet conditions began taking their toll, but Blake Mazza kicked a short field goal to push the lead to 24-3 in the final seconds of the half.
Washington State’s defense shined throughout the half and Colorado’s James Stefanou went 1-for-3 in field goals, hitting from 24 yards but missing from 48 and 52.
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WSU 41, Colorado 10
Stars of the game
ANTHONY GORDON was 35-of-51 passing for 369 yards, four touchdowns and one interception for the Cougars. MAX BORGHI rushed for 105 yards and caught nine passes for 57 yards, finishing with two touchdowns. BRANDON ARCONADO returned from an injury and made five receptions for 109 yards and a score, and EASOP WINSTON JR. added five catches for 82 yards. On defense, JAHAD WOODS made nine tackles and a sack, while SKYLER THOMAS, GEORGE HICKS III and MARCUS STRONG had one interception apiece.
Two plays after the Cougars scored on their first possession, Thomas read quarterback Steven Montez’s intentions and stepped in front of the intended receiver for an interception. He returned the ball 19 yards to the Colorado 26-yard line, and four plays later Gordon hit DEZMON PATMON for a 22-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
The Cougars face league-leading Oregon at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Eugene, Ore.