There are playmakers!
The 2020 season was supposed to usher in a new era of Washington State football — one where the Cougar offense morphed from an Air Rad to to the Run and Shoot. What we got in the truncated four-game season was just a brief preview.
Believe it or not, WSU didn’t even use its entire playbook last season, and who could blame them? No spring football, hardly any real preseason camp, a true freshman quarterback under center, and players needing to quarantine at random times. Thankfully, reports indicate the team will open its entire playbook this season, so we should see what this Run and Shoot can do.
So, with only four games as our only sample size — four games where they playbook was neutered — we’re left to pretend that the 2021 version of your Washington State Cougars is the true Year 1.
The hottest issue, of course, is who will start at quarterback. It’s been four seasons since we’ve known who was QB1 heading into preseason camp, but such is life in college football. Max Borghi is poised for a big year, especially after only playing in one game last year. The offensive line returns four of its five starters, and while the receiving corps is depleted, it still features some promising players.
With that, let’s take a look at the 2021 WSU offense.
We’re two weeks from the season opener and we don’t know who the quarterback will be. Not ideal. Will it be Jayden de Laura, the now-sophomore and hopefully more mature player? Or will Cammon Cooper finally step into a leadership role and command the offense? And what about transfer and former Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano?
Nick Rolovich hasn’t indicated one way or the other. Is that bad news? Well, it’s not not bad.
De Laura has the advantage of taking the most snaps last season, as well as knowledge of the Run and Shoot from his high school days. Cooper’s been with the program since January of 2018. Guarantano knows pressure from being in the SEC, though his track record there leaves a lot to be desired.
Whoever gets the starting nod, he’ll have some studs around him.
Most Intriguing Player: de Laura. The sophomore was a surprise pick to start as a true freshman last season and an offseason suspension stemming from a DUI arrest kept him from spring practices. We’ll see if, a) he’s even the starter on Sept. 4, and b) if any of that time off affected him, positively or negatively.
This is Max Borghi’s NFL audition. A back injury kept Borghi from three of his team’s four games, and when he returned, we all remembered how good he was as he rushed for 95 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown. Borghi needs to stay healthy, but it’s not like his backups are scraps.
Deon McIntosh filled in admirably last season, going for 323 yards and three touchdowns in four games. Wisconsin transfer Nakia Watson provides depth and experience.
I’m still intrigued by what Jouvensly Bazil can do. Even in Rolovich’s second season, some fans may still be used to seeing a three-headed monster rotate at running back. That won’t necessarily be the case in the Run and Shoot, but should injuries creep in, WSU has some comfortable depth at running back.
By the way, Bazil is the last running back WSU signed out of high school, and that was back in 2019. WSU does have a running back committed for 2022 in Djouvensky Schlenbaker.
Most Intriguing Player: Borghi. This is his year and probably his last shot at impressing NFL scouts. He’s been a gamer ever since he stepped on campus, and there’s no way he’s letting his foot off the gas in his last season.
It’s nice to have only one spot on the offensive line up for grabs. This is a unit that has been a strong group for WSU over the years, and this year the line will once again have plenty of experience.
Tackles Liam Ryan and Abraham Lucas opted to return for another season, with Lucas looking to impress NFL scouts. Brian Greene and Jarrett Kingston also return after starting their first season last year.
With Josh Watson opting to pursue a firefighting career, that leaves the right guard position open. Two players are currently in a battle for that spot: Junior Cade Beresford and sophomore Rodrick Tialavea. Beresford, the in-state product from Woodinville, was seemingly the guy coming out of spring practices, and he’ll look to cement his spot on the line.
Once again, WSU lacks experience from the backups, so staying healthy is crucial. Same as it ever was.
Most Intriguing Player: Whoever plays right guard. If it’s Beresford, that says something about his development from when he first arrived. Let’s hope he’s WSU’s next great offensive lineman from Woodinville.
The loss of Renard Bell is brutal, as the senior accounted for a little more than a third of the team’s receptions last year. The transfer of Jamire Calvin also hurts (he reunited with Mike Leach at Mississippi State, by the way), as he was the team’s third-leading receiver.
Bell and Travell Harris were clearly the go-to receivers last season. The two combined for 66% of the team’s receptions. With Harris the only one of the two back this season, perhaps opening the playbook will take the load off his shoulders at the inside receiver position. Calvin Jackson Jr. also returns for his final season at outside receiver, providing veteran experience. This is a good time to mention that Harris hasn’t been a full participant in preseason practices. Let’s hope he’s healthy in two weeks.
The wild cards are the other two positions. Donovan Ollie and C.J. Moore are in a battle at the other outside receiver position, and neither has been as consistent as they need to be. Joey Hobert could man the other inside receiver position.
Most Intriguing Player: De’Zhaun Stribling. The true freshman has showed up in practice reports as a possible candidate for playing time as a true freshman. He and de Laura apparently are familiar with each other from their high school days, so I’m sure that helps. Ollie was another potential choice here. He’s been in the program a while and is hopefully ready for the spotlight.