PULLMAN — A historic, record-breaking performance by Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon and the Cougar offense was outweighed by a second-half WSU implosion in a 67-63 loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 opener Saturday at Martin Stadium.
Queue the jokes about Madden-style numbers, a basketball scoreline in a football game and the infamous “Couging it.”
Gordon’s numbers were more akin to a video game.
The fifth-year senior tossed a program-record nine touchdown passes and finished with 570 passing yards — numbers Madden enthusiasts might not even believe.
It was supposed to be a day of celebration in Pullman. Coach Mike Leach was honored with a AFCA National Coach of the Year award, Jacksonville Jaguars and rising NFL star Gardner Minshew was on hand to take photos with fans and raise the Cougar flag, and WSU led 49-17 at one point in the second half.
Most-impressive of all was Gordon.
On a day where the Cougars needed every point — and apparently, more — Gordon surpassed Minshew’s single-game touchdown record of seven set last season with his predecessor watching from the sideline.
Four of those touchdowns went to TD-machine Easop Winston Jr., who tied the single-game receiving record with four scores.
Not a bad pair passing-receiving feats considering the Cougs seem to pass for at least 400 yards every game.
Gordon let it rip for 306 yards and five scores in the first half alone in the best game yet of his already exceptional, young season. He also shredded an overmatched UCLA defense for nine plays of 20-or-more yards.
Storybook material right there. Or not.
Despite his mind-boggling numbers, it wasn’t a perfect game for WSU’s latest offensive phenom.
Gordon had two interceptions — one on a tipped ball that wasn’t his fault — and a fumble when he was tackled from behind on WSU’s last play of the game, deep in its own territory.
“It’s disappointing anytime we don’t come out victorious,” Gordon said. “We need to execute more on offense ... we kept shooting ourselves in the foot.
“There were some negative plays that appeared to be big turning points in the game. It would be pretty hard to win any football games when you turn the ball over six times.”
If the Cougars must rely heavily on Gordon and the WSU passing game this season, his performance still was an overall positive showing on a day overshadowed by turnovers and defensive mishaps.
Consider Gordon’s stats going into the game. The Pacifica, Calif., native’s 441 passing yards per game easily led the nation. His 12 passing touchdowns (four per game) tied the national lead.
He crushed those stats in this one, and it still wasn’t enough.
UCLA’s 50 points in the second half were more than they’d scored all season in their first three games. The 130 points were the most in a conference game in Pac-12 history.
“We came up just a little short and we need to preach the little things better in practice collectively as players,” Gordon said, “and enforce certain things and hold each other to a higher standard moving forward.
“You know we're a real tight-knit team and you know we just have to rely on each other and pick each other up moving forward.”
Stephan Wiebe can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @StephanSports.