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Sports >  WSU football

John Blanchette: With HBO cameras rolling, Washington State rolled out the red carpet for Max Borghi

Oct. 19, 2019 Updated Sat., Oct. 19, 2019 at 11:02 p.m.

PULLMAN – Everyone’s favorite football board game is Distraction, and if you believe Mike Leach there’s only one play: Everything goes in the discard pile.

Of course, often as not he’s the one who gets the game started.

But never mind that. On Saturday, the Washington State coach finished running the table.

He got HBO out of his hair.

The network’s “24/7 College Football” cameras dogged the Cougars around campus this week, one of those pain-in-the-ass allowances wrapped up in a publicity bonanza. That’s the rationale, anyway, amid the risks.

But outside of the actual airing on Wednesday, the HBO guys are as yesterday as “The Sopranos,” and Leach’s scrubbing of preoccupations can be presumed complete. This on the heels of banning his players from Twitter and debunking – more or less – his popoff former quarterback’s claim of internecine staff warfare that led to the abrupt midseason departure of the defensive coordinator.

Various Cougar constituencies, however, may continue to chew on their wads of Max Borghi Bewildermint at Pete Carroll pace.

Other than Wazzu’s first step into the Pac-12 win column, the best news out of Saturday’s 41-10 drubbing of hapless Colorado was Borghi amassing a career high for touches – 21 – in a splendid evening that included a team-best nine receptions and 105 yards rushing, making him the first WSU running back since Jerome Harrison in 2005 to post three 100-yard games in a season. A big day against the home-state school he snubbed to pick WSU.

Touches? Yes, touches.

Yards and scores are what matter, but you don’t get them without the opportunities.

“I wasn’t vocal about (getting the ball more),” Borghi said. “But, yeah, I don’t know – it just happens.”

And that’s the puzzlement in the court of public opinion – and the punditry: why the Cougars don’t seem to make it happen more with their most multidimensional player. Dare it be said, their best player.

This is where the cynics’ chorus chimes in with something along the lines of, well, then the Cougs should play him on defense, the unit cast as the root of all evil in Wazzu’s three straight losses prior to Saturday. And, true, the Borghi debate sometimes seems a lot of nattering about nits, given the Cougars are the Pac-12’s No. 1 offense and No. 5 nationally.

But Leach himself perhaps unintentionally found a thread in his postgame thoughts that illustrated the issue, noting that the Cougars’ big offensive improvement Saturday was in consistency to go with their explosiveness.

Later on, he allowed that Borghi “is kind of a steady guy.”

The steadiest. So why not go steady with him?

Instead, last week in the narrow loss to Arizona State, Borghi carried the ball just nine times and was targeted on six passes. His touches against UCLA (17) and Utah (15) seemed similarly stunted.

So it was heartening to see the sophomore running back get the ball three times in nine snaps in WSU’s opening touchdown drive, including a 19-yard run and a 4-yard touchdown catch from Anthony Gordon. The Cougs even went to him three straight times – two runs of 7 yards and an 8-yard swing pass – another time.

Best of all was his 47-yard touchdown run when he built drama by running through the flailing arms of Colorado’s Nate Landman, Aaron Maddox and Davion Taylor before dragging Mikael Onu the last four yards.

“We checked to the run, so I was getting excited because I knew I had the opportunity – and all I can ask for is an opportunity,” Borghi said. “I just hit the hole hard and made a couple guys miss and then took off.

“It was fun. It was exciting to break out and break loose on Colorado. I love running the ball.”

Yet there was the end-of-half red-zone folly with the Cougars having three cracks from the Colorado 3 – and never once looking Borghi’s way with a handoff (two timeouts remained) or a check-down pass. The guy was the closest thing to automatic all night.

But this is a Coug thing, which is to say a Leach thing. Spreading it around is gospel, or mostly.

“There’s always a consideration to get touches to Max,” Leach said, “and then there was a point in the game where that was where the best value was.”

Featuring a running back is not necessarily out of character for the Cougs. James Williams had five games of 22 touches or more the previous two seasons – even with Borghi nicking into some of his time last year. Surely a regular dose of that would be doable, if not the Christian McCaffrey-esque 30-touch games that made the former Stanford star Borghi’s ideal growing up.

“I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, man, I gotta get him the ball,’ ” Gordon said. “But when I’m looking around and see a light run box, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, we should probably give 21 the ball here.’ ”

Why not? He drives defenses to distraction.

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