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Two-minute drill: Keys to victory for No. 23 Washington State against New Mexico State

Don’t take your eyes off …

Mike Leach didn’t have much turnover at the quarterback position his first six seasons in Pullman. After Jeff Tuel’s lone season as a starter in the Air Raid, Connor Halliday and Luke Falk gave Washington State relative stability at the position for the next five years. But now Leach is on his third starter in as many years. Anthony Gordon will be the first, second and third WSU player most fans will track during Saturday’s opener against the Aggies. Gordon won’t have much leeway with the fan base, which will scrutinize him for every error against a subpar NMSU defense. On the flip side, if Gordon plays well, most fans will withhold judgment, waiting to see how he fares against a better opponent. So in a lose-lose scenario like this, the best thing the redshirt senior can do is win. Then do it again the next week, and the one after that.

When NMSU has the ball …

As long as Jason Huntley doesn’t miss the team plane, the Aggies will have a chance to put points up, either on offense or via special teams. The senior is one of the most versatile players in America, and his numbers aren’t just the result of playing on a team that’s willing to use him as many ways as possible. An Arlington, Texas, native, Huntley was a fourth-team All-American in 2018, according to analyst Phil Steele. This week, he’s as much of a concern to WSU special teams coach Matt Brock as he is to defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys. Huntley would be perfect for the Air Raid: As a junior, he rushed for 500 yards last season, on 109 carries, and tacked on more than 500 receiving yards, catching 47 passes out of the backfield. Huntley is also a demon in the kick return game, bringing three kickoffs back for touchdowns last season – an NCAA high – after recording three kickoff return TDs a year prior.

When WSU has the ball …

How the Cougars divvy up carries for the running backs could be as intriguing as anything else Saturday evening. Sophomore Max Borghi is the unquestioned leader at the position, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of clarity after that, even if Deon McIntosh would seem to be an obvious second option from an outsider’s perspective. WSU cycled through four running backs during fall camp, at times using converted fullback Clay Markoff more than McIntosh. Will Jouvensly Bazil carve out some type of role as a true freshman? The Cougars would prefer to redshirt the Haitian-born speedster if possible, but since he’s able to do that while still making four appearances, would it make sense to use Bazil more here to take reps off the shoulders of Borghi, McIntosh and Markoff if WSU is able to establish a healthy lead early on? Borghi will be vital to the Cougars once Pac-12 play begins. I suspect by that point, we’ll realize McIntosh is, too.

Did you know?

New Mexico State will be the fifth FBS independent school the Cougars have faced since the turn of the millennium, but the third in WSU’s eight seasons under Leach. The results of the past four games against independents were mixed. In 2003, Bill Doba’s Cougars traveled to South Bend, Indiana, to face Tyrone Willingham and Notre Dame, losing 29-26 in overtime. WSU dropped another game to the Fighting Irish in 2009, losing 40-14 in San Antonio. The Cougars went to Provo, Utah, in Leach’s WSU debut, suffering a 30-6 loss to BYU in a game that pitted the coach against his alma mater. Palouse rival Idaho played one season as an independent in 2013, but the Vandals couldn’t get on the scoreboard in a 42-0 loss at Martin Stadium.