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Oregon State Football: A Midsummer’s Opponent Preview - Washington State Cougars (Game 4)

The Nick Rolovich era gets rolling in Pullman.

NCAA Football: Hawaii at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Washington State Cougars

  • Head Coach: Nick Rolovich (1st Season)
  • 2019 Record: 6-7 (3-6 in Pac-12)
  • Last Meeting: 11/23/19 - Washington State 54, Oregon State 53
  • Key Returners: RB - Max Borghi, LB - Jahad Woods, OL - Abraham Lucas

The Skinny

After finishing ranked in the Top 10 to end the 2018 season, Washington State had a rough follow-up campaign in 2019, which prompted head coach Mike Leach to bolt town for Mississippi State.

It was a stunning two year change for a program that had seemingly found a solid level of consistency in Leach’s air raid offense and was set to enter a stretch of roster turnover with the graduations of quarterback Anthony Gordon and their top three wide receivers in Brandon Arconado, Easop Winston Jr. and Dezmon Patmon. However, the show must go on in Pullman and in steps new head coach Nick Rolovich, whose tasked with picking up the pieces left behind.

Rolovich, who comes to Pullman after a four-year stint at Hawaii, is a student of the “run and shoot” offense, which he’s modified in recent seasons to utilize in pistol formations and with “run pass options (RPO’s)”. If Washington State had some returning pieces in tow, they would probably quickly assimilate to the similarities in Leach’s and Rolovich’s offense. Yet, in reality, there’s very little left in the cupboard outside of three starters on the offensive line, which includes NFL prospect, Abraham Lucas.

In “year zero”, Rolovich must plug in a brand new quarterback, a daunting task for any coach, but an especially difficult ask of a head coach implementing a new system without a true spring period to work with his squad. Sophomore Cammon Cooper was first believed to be the choice-in-waiting, but freshmen Gunner Cruz and Jayde de Laura have turned this position into all-out competition, which may not even be settled by Week One.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Washington State at Arizona State
Running back Max Borghi could see more production out of the backfield, but he’s still a reliable target in the passing game.
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The only skill position talent that it seems will have no competition for their role will be versatile running back Max Borghi, who led the team in both carries and receptions last season, boasting 1,414 all-purpose yards of offense and scoring 16 touchdowns along the way. Borghi is truly one of the country’s underrated stars, who couldn’t have flourished more explosively in Leach’s system. How he now adjusts to Rolovich’s approach will be another intriguing characteristic of this football team going forward.

Where Rolovich needs to make the biggest impact though in on the defensive side of the ball, where he and new defensive coordinator Jake Dickert have to find answers on the fly. The Cougars defense was downright embarrassing in 2019, surrendering 31.4 points per game to opponents and allowing 6.6 yards per play, all while also giving up seventeen plays of 40 yards or more. They may return eight starters, including linebacker Jahad Woods (featured below) and safety Skyler Thomas (72 tackles, 4 INT’s), but they will have to vastly alter their approach and scheme to expect different results.

Overall, there’s few teams that will be as large of enigmas as Washington State will be this fall. Rolovich’s new system, a lack of a true off-season to break players in and a mix of new faces being thrust into key roles leave this team as a giant question mark right now. In the case of the Cougars, it’s a serious “only time will tell” scenario.

Player To Watch

Washington State v California
In addition to being a tackling machine, Woods tallied 3 sacks and forced 2 fumbles last year.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Jahad Woods - Linebacker

Woods is a classic sideline-to-sideline linebacker, who tallied 141 tackles in 2019, a mark that ranked him 4th best in the country. At 6’ 1”, 230-pounds, the senior from San Diego has a natural nose for the football and finds ways to make plays for a Cougars defense that was chronically lackluster under Mike Leach. He’ll be the unequivocal leader for group that must improve drastically across the board in 2020.

Game Info

  • Date: Saturday, September 26th
  • Time: TBD
  • Location: Reser Stadium (Corvallis, Oregon)

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