Flashback to Washington State: A Review of the Cougs’ Running Game and Training Adjustments

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Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review WSU’s Max Borghi dust off his jersey after scoring a touchdown against BYU on Saturday at Pullman. Borghi scored three touchdowns in the game and set a career high for the second week in a row.

PULLMAN – Washington State suffered a week of turmoil and still managed to put a competitive product on the court against a skilled opponent.

Although the Cougars fell 21-19 on Saturday against BYU – which has now topped four Pacific-12 Conference teams – they should have reason to love their chances of ending this season on a high note.

WSU (4-4) must win two of its last four games to be bowl eligible. In its own way are the conference heavyweights Arizona State and Oregon, winless Arizona and rival Washington Huskies.

It’ll be a challenge – and it could well play out on the wire – but securing two more wins under the guidance of interim coach Jake Dickert certainly doesn’t seem out of the question given the well-matched performance of his debut.

With that, let’s look back:

Borghi and the WSU racing game

WSU buffs know running back Max Borghi most for his exceptional acceleration, handling off tackles, and next-level cutting ability on the inside.

“Everyone is talking about the player. I’m going to talk about the person, ”Dickert said.

Perhaps more important than his career day on the pitch on Saturday, Borghi was one of eight team captains to help the Cougars overcome an unpleasant situation.

“He did a great job leading the charge of where we wanted to go and leading by example, and being a great voice and leader,” said Dickert. “We all know what he’s capable of. We all know Max’s talent, but the person inside matched the player (Saturday).

Dickert has spent part of the last week familiarizing himself with the offensive players in the WSU. Prior to being named interim head coach last Monday, he didn’t really know them on a personal level – he didn’t know them much beyond the practice reps they had taken against his defenders.

As the defensive coordinator, naturally, Dickert was largely focused on that side of the ball. But after a few days at the helm, he begins to get a feel for the character among the run-and-shooters. He was particularly impressed with “Borghi’s demeanor, work ethic and leadership.

“And for him, being successful (Saturday) is fun to watch,” Dickert said.

Borghi set a career-high litter for the second game in a row. He recorded 17 ground attempts in a 34-31 win over Stanford, then made 18 transfers against BYU. Former WSU coach Nick Rolovich reported after the Stanford game that the Cougars found Borghi’s ideal run-and-shoot workload to be between 15 and 20 races per game.

The all-star senior fullback has gained 83 yards, his eighth-highest in a single game in 35 career outings. He scored three rushing touchdowns – something he had never accomplished before.

Borghi increased his career TD total to 28, overtaking WSU great Jerome Harrison for second on the all-time scorers list. Borghi’s 37 total touchdowns over the course of his career place him second in scoring alongside wide receiver Gabe Marks.

Borghi had 65 total litters going into the Stanford game. Two weeks later he’s at 100. He’s also been targeted in the passing game more against BYU than he has been in any other game this year, registering 36 yards on four catches.

Borghi’s rise in production could be attributed to an injury suffered by his backfield compatriot, fellow veteran Deon McIntosh.

McIntosh disappeared from the roster halfway through the second quarter against Stanford, and after halftime was on crutches with a wrap around his right ankle.

The Cougars attempted a point with third string Nakia Watson against BYU – a stuffed yard at the end of the first quarter – then completely gave up using the Wisconsin transfer for the remainder of the game.

Borghi was the only other WSU to return to see the weather. His numbers were good, but the day presented mixed results overall. Borghi was buckled up and held less than 3 yards on 10 rushing attempts – excluding his two short TDs. He often tried to bounce on the outside, but there was rarely room to do so.

The Cougars have been limited to less than 100 rushing yards in half of their games this season.

On the other hand, WSU has conceded more than 200 rushing yards against four of its eight opponents this year. BYU had clearly planned to throw the ball often against a WSU defense that struggled in that regard.

BYU scolded for 253 yards on 46 carries, averaging 5.5 yards per try (minus sacks). Strong fullback Tyler Allgeier had 191 yards on 32 attempts and was never down for a loss.

The Visiting Cougars came into the game splitting their passes and rushing almost exactly 50% this season. Precisely two-thirds of their games on Saturday were called points.

“We didn’t do our best, in terms of the conclusion, the squeeze and the cornering,” Dickert said of the rushed defense.

“We relied a bit on the second half. We did not have the opportunity to take the ball.

BYU bullet carriers never returned him. WSU had forced at least one takeout in every other game this season.

The Provo, Utah, Cougars bet on the running game in consecutive five-minute streaks in the third quarter and four-minute streak to seal the victory.

The week before, Stanford – who entered the game last in the Pac-12 rushing – ran the ball 31 times for 99 yards against 32 assists. The Cardinal had thrown the ball the vast majority of the time before this game.

A week earlier, Oregon State had hit the Cougars on the ground for 309 yards on 45 attempts.

WSU will next face an opponent in Arizona State who ranks third in the Pac-12 in rush-per-game (203.7 yards), second in yards per carry (5.4) and first in touchdowns in the rush. ground (22).

Coaching transition

Dickert and the staff were “learning on the fly”.

Last week, Cougars staff had to quickly replace four assistants, all of whom were fired by the school last Monday with Rolovich for failing to meet a state vaccination mandate against COVID-19.

Dickert led a team for the first time in his 14-year career and called his debut a “learning experience”.

He must learn to balance his responsibilities as head coach and defensive coordinator.

Offensive coordinator Brian Smith, who had spent the past few weeks helping the offense from the area, took over the call-in duties from the sideline.

WSU’s running and shooting offense has slowed its pace. Between games, Smith walked a few yards on the field to meet Laura’s quarterback Jayden.

The Cougars’ three most successful workouts averaged around five minutes each – WSU’s offense had played out much faster than that in recent weeks.

Cougars players said the transition went relatively smoothly and didn’t have much of an impact on their performance.

Dickert said it went as smoothly as possible under the circumstances.

“Communication from Brian and (special teams coordinator Kyle Krantz) was really good,” he said. “I thought it was really fluid. There were just little things that I can improve myself in, that we can improve on. “

A new face was on the sidelines at offensive line coach Dennis McKnight, a run-and-shoot veteran who was signed last week. Quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison, another recent rookie, watched from above. Dickert said the two took on observer roles in practices last week and have yet to have time to teach on the pitch because their jobs were not cleared until Friday.

WSU’s offense has seen periods of disarticulation, mixed in with some impressive workouts in which the run-and-shoot looked sharp.

There were a handful of run-time errors – three fatal on-hold calls, a few deep misfires in Laura’s traffic, and a mismanaged snap on an unsuccessful PAT – but despite the trainers’ turnover, the Cougs apparently limited the communication incidents.

“It was a smooth transition,” said slot Calvin Jackson Jr. “Coach Stutz (former co-OC / QB coach Craig Stutzmann), coach Rolo, these guys are awesome, but in the end by the way, right now our coach is Coach Smitty, and he’s done a really good job getting us ready, along with Coach Dre (WR coach Andre Allen). It was different at first, but you can’t sit here and sulk.

Dickert credited his captains – Borghi, Travell Harris, Abraham Lucas, Liam Ryan, Jahad Woods, Jaylen Watson, Daniel Isom and Armani Marsh – with facilitating the team through the renewal of coaches.

“I can’t even tell you how proud I am of this group and how they set the tempo for the week,” Dickert said. “We will improve as we move forward and keep moving forward. It’s the only thing we can do.


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