Thank you, Mississippi Mustache

Minshew finishes off incredible final season in signature style



Graduate quarterback Gardner Minshew poses for photos after their 19-13 win against California on Nov. 3 in Martin Stadium. Minshew finished second in the nation in passing completion percentage and first in completions.

RYAN MOSHER, Evergreen reporter

At the start of the season, WSU football was expected to finish fifth in the Pac-12 North in the preseason media poll.

Instead, they finished second in the division, ranked as high as No. 8 and won a school record 11 games after a 28-26 victory against No. 24 Iowa State in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

So, what made the difference?

Mike Leach won Pac-12 Coach of the Year and Defensive Coordinator Tracy Claeys was a semifinalist for the Broyles Award, an honor saved for the nation’s top assistant coach. However, the one variable no one accounted for in their preseason predictions was Gardner Minshew II or, as many fans like to call him, the Mississippi Mustache. In his first and last year he left his mark on Pullman.

“The family that we’ve developed, these brothers of mine it was only for a short time but, man, it means so much to me,” Minshew said.

The graduate transfer quarterback didn’t have an easy road to Pullman. Minshew started out on the Troy University football team in 2015 but transferred after one semester to Northwest Mississippi Community College where he led the team to a National Junior College Athletic Association Championship.

Minshew then transferred to East Carolina University, where for over two years he was never the full-time starter. After he finished his degree, Minshew planned to transfer to University of Alabama. He hoped to learn from Nick Saban in pursuit of his coaching dreams.

But a phone call from “The Pirate” changed all of that. Leach famously asked Minshew if he wanted to lead the nation in passing.  The Brandon, Mississippi native couldn’t resist the offer. He packed his bags and headed to Pullman, and its a good thing he did.

Minshew started this past season with victories over Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington to become the only Cougar quarterback to win his first three starts. His first loss of the season came against USC on Sept. 21 and despite falling to the Trojans by three points, Minshew Mania continued to spread.

By the Utah game in late September, you might have noticed early adopters of the Cougar faithful began to sport mustaches and headbands in honor of the Mississippi Mustache. The nickname began to spread after WSU quarterbacks coach Drew Hollingshead posted a picture of Minshew shirtless and holding a wrestling belt after winning that week’s quarterback competition.

After blowing Oregon State out of the water on Oct. 6, WSU had finally showed up on the national radar in a big way. ESPN’s College GameDay announced Oct. 13 they would make a long-awaited trip to Pullman as then-No. 25 WSU prepped for then-No. 12 Oregon. The Cougars would go on to defeat the Ducks 34-20 as fans rushed the field and raised Minshew, the hero of the game, onto their shoulders.

The Cougars then won four of their last five games to finish No. 13 in the College Football Playoff rankings. They received an invitation to the Valero Alamo Bowl where Minshew capped off the most successful season in WSU history. During the game, Minshew was a human highlight reel.

Looking back at what Minshew accomplished, it’s something that the Palouse might not see again. He finished second in the nation in passing completion percentage and attempted 357 more passes than the first-place finisher. He was also first in completions, second in passing yards and fourth in touchdowns.

For his efforts he won the 2018 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting.

Minshew accomplished a lot in a short amount of time and will certainly leave behind a legacy on the Palouse. Anytime you have a folk song (Mississippi Moustache by Tom Hutyler) written in your honor you did something right.

The best part of watching Minshew play was the excitement you felt when he took the field. He had fun and it showed. His obvious passion for the game endeared him to fans.

What a newcomer to the Palouse like Minshew might not understand is what he means to this community, not only this season, not only while his records stand, but as long as there’s Cougars in Pullman. I will always have admiration for what he did to elevate this program.