Few college football quarterbacks have done more through the first two months of the 2018 college season to help their stock than Washington State's Gardner Minshew. Minshew, a transfer from East Carolina, has flourished in the Cougars' spread offense this season.
Minshew's final four games of 2017 with the Pirates served as a glimpse of who he could be as a passer. In those four contests (1-3 record), Minshew posted impressive stats. His average stat line against Houston, Tulane, Cincinnati and Memphis:
62.1% completion, 372 passing yards, 3.33 touchdowns, 1.67 interceptions
Not a bad line for the signal caller of the lowly ECU Pirates. But now, under the tutelage of coach Mike Leach, Minshew is spraying the ball all over the field and dropping bombs all over the PAC 12.
Video game numbers can only take you so far, however. And make no mistake, Minshew's stats through 9 starts are exactly that.
Does that mean he's a shoo-in as a draft selection in April? Of course not. We've seen spread quarterbacks go by the wayside in years past, there needs to be more substance in the film. While Minshew isn't quite as consistent as he needs to be yet, there are some impressive flashes that are impossible to ignore.
I put Minshew's game against USC under the microscope at the end of last week and needless to say I liked a lot of what I saw. One play in particular stands out. It's a big time throw under pressure in a clutch situation. What did Minshew offer that was so impressive?
I'm glad you asked. Let's take a look.
Any quarterback prospect, regardless of their offensive system or level of competition, needs to be able to show he can identify a blitz and make crisp decisions under duress. Gardner Minshew is no exception to this rule, he showed quality reps against the Trojans earlier this season.
Minshew's special play was a 1st and 10 pass inside his own 25-yard line, trailing by one point in the final moments of the game. Here's the play in question:
Walking through the pre-snap look, Minshew is faced with off coverage and 6 loaded rushers between the tackles. With five linemen and the back holding in pass protection, Washington State has enough blockers to account for a full on assault.
This numbers game means Minshew doesn't have to quickly displace the football on a hot read, he can work to his drop and make a decision from there.
As Minshew proceeds through his drop, he reads a miscommunication in the middle of the field: both interior defensive backs drive on the crossing route coming from right to left. Washington State layered this route with a dig route behind it, a play that sucked DB27 for USC away from a vertical route working from the boundary into the hashes.
Long story short, the route combination pressured USC and produced the desired result: a throwing window. The Trojans would pay for it dearly.
Throwing Under Pressure
There's one potential wrench in this progression of routes: the Trojans get significant pressure in the pocket. A blitzing linebacker easily defeats the block of Washington State's running back, resulting in a hand flashing across Minshew's face at the release of the ball.
But this is where this play goes from good to great.
Please, make a note of how Minshew is forced to alter his throwing release. The television broadcast offered a back end look at the throw and...well...it's something.
As the caption states, this throw simply doesn't make any sense. A passer shouldn't be able to stick a ball out in front of a receiver 37 yards down the field when his release is forced to recoil halfway through.
And yet Minshew does exactly that, stopping his arm midway through his release to prevent from crashing into the extended body of the blitzer.
And the throw is right on the money. This is an exciting play. Not only for his proper diagnosis of the coverage and the handling of a clear pressure situation, but for the throw itself.
This is a great illustration of the phrase "arm talent". No, Minshew isn't an all-world quarterback. He's too often late and inside on crossing routes, which puts ball security at risk. Minshew also has some wild reps extending plays under pressure. But this? Right here? This tells me that Minshew can ball. And that there's a natural skillset here that needs to be investigated further.
Minshew isn't a prospect we can afford to cut corners on. We'll need to see every rep through the end of the season, given his limited on field sample size, to determine his quality as a prospect.
But in the meantime, he's given us plenty to like.