What to expect in WSU’s football opener against Oregon State

The Washington State Cougars opened up fall football camp Friday afternoon in Pullman
courtesy wsu athletics

SPOKANE, Wash. — In a year full of unknowns, we enter into a Pac-12 Conference football season and we really don’t know what to expect from anybody.  If the rest of the country’s games are any indication, this Conference race will be wide open.

Full disclosure:  This is the first college football season in my career that I am entering blind.  No reporters have seen a single snap of practice as things were closed down because of Covid concerns.  Therefore, I don’t have a lot of answers to questions, just the same questions as everyone else, so lets go through it together.

A NEW BALL COACH

Welcome to the Nick Rolovich era of Washington State football.  So far what’s that meant, a coach that really seems to care about his players, and really understands Cougar nation.  When he’s not buying food or drinks for students or fans, Rolovich has been installing his run and shoot offense that he had success with at Hawaii.  What does that mean for this year’s WSU team?  We’re not sure.  We expect it means more balance on offense.  We expect it means the Cougs won’t be throwing the ball when they are up 21 in the fourth quarter.  But what we expect and what actually happens aren’t always the same.

This is actually a great spot to be coming into for a new head coach.  Usually when a new coach is hired it’s because the last guy got fired because the team was horrible.  Usually a new coach will spend a year or two just trying to teach his new team how to work hard and how to win.  Well, this team knows how to work hard, Rolovich has complimented his team several times for just that.  And this team knows nothing but going to Bowl games, so yes, they know how to win.

STRENGTHS

Everything on offense.  Not really, but kind of.

The running back room is loaded.  Preseason all-conference running back Max Borghi is coming off a monster season where he posted over 1,400 total yards and 16 touchdowns.  We should expect him to be a focal point once again.  However, Borghi is not alone.  Deon McIntosh showed last year he is more than capable with the football, and newcomer Jo Jo Bazil has some burst and put up big numbers in both Cougar scrimmages this fall.

The offensive line should also be very strong with two time all Pac-12 tackle Abraham Lucas and Senior Liam Ryan holding down the tackle positions and leading the way with a big, experienced group.

The wide receiver group has been a strength of the Cougars with both skill and depth over the years, and we don’t expect it to be any different this year.  There will be plenty of familiar names in the stat sheet including Travell Harris, Jamire Calvin, and Renard Bell.  Freshman Joey Hobert has been the rave of the coaching staff and should be on the field early and often.  Another newcomer to look out for this year is Lucas Bacon from Mead High School in Spokane.  The walk-on has been mentioned several times by Rolovich as someone that stood out in practice.

THE QUARTERBACK

Freshman Jayden De Laura will start at quarterback for WSU in their openerThere is plenty of hype and hope around true Freshman Jayden De Laura who gets the starting nod after a three-way quarterback battle in camp.  De Laura is a highly rated prospect who becomes the first Freshman to start the season opener in Cougar history.  He’s a little bigger than I expected based on the limited video we’ve seen from WSU, and can run the football.  Expect the Cougs to mix in some read-option with De Laura under center (or in the shotgun).  If he can perform this season, it sets us up for years of exciting football down the road.

THE DEFENSE

This is the portion of the preview that is a complete guess.

I have no idea what this year’s defense is going to look like, however I’m hopeful it will be much better.  Why not, right? The players have a confidence we haven’t heard on that side of the ball for a few years, so that gives me hope.  They also gave the offense fits in the second scrimmage of the fall, so much so, Rolovich was very critical of his offense after that practice.

What we do know, there will be a heavy rotation of players.  Many positions on the depth chart are listed as player A OR player B as their starters.  Rolovich confirmed there will be more rotation on defense and he singled out the line and corner positions as places where we could see fresh bodies all night.

THE SEASON

I was asked on a podcast this week what record I though the Cougars would have this fall.  I answered, “no stinking idea.”  This team could lose all their games, the could win most, again because we are going into the season blind, it’s all a guess.

Here’s what I hope we see this season.  I hope we see a team that is competitive in every game.  I hope we see an offense that is fun, and explosive.  I hope we see a much better defense.  And I hope we see better clock management out of the coaching staff than we’ve seen over the last decade.

The number one thing I’m hopeful for this season:  7 games played.  We’ve already seen 2 cancellations before the Pac-12 season started.  The Cougar players have worked very hard to put themselves in position for a season and I hope they are rewarded.

If they get all their games in, and they show they belong in the top half of the conference, I would consider that to be a massive win for Nick Rolovich in his first year in Pullman.