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Washington State ‘still going day by day’ with injured running back Max Borghi; Deon McIntosh embracing opportunity

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 16, 2020

Washington State Cougars running back Max Borghi (21) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown against the Stanford Cardinal during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, November 16, 2019, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. WSU won the game 49-22.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars running back Max Borghi (21) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown against the Stanford Cardinal during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, November 16, 2019, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. WSU won the game 49-22. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Nick Rolovich didn’t completely shut down the possibility of Max Borghi returning to the field this season, but the coach’s comments Monday night didn’t inspire much confidence Washington State’s junior running back would be plowing through defenders in a crimson uniform anytime soon.

The Preseason All-Pac-12 First Team selection has missed consecutive games for the Cougars with an undisclosed back injury, and Rolovich was asked Monday night if he expected Borghi to return at any point this season.

“I don’t know,” Rolovich said. “Still going day by day on that one. I guess we’ll see how long the season goes.”

The final sentence of Rolovich’s comment may be interpreted one of two ways. If the Cougars win at least three of their final five games, they’d become bowl-eligible, with an opportunity to play an eighth game sometime in late December, conceivably giving Borghi more time to rehab.

It’s also possible Rolovich was referencing the frail nature of the current college football climate, which seems to have the potential to crumble at a given moment. After two weeks, the Pac-12 Conference has been able to play just eight of the 12 games on the original schedule, and most states within the conference’s footprint have tightened COVID-19 restrictions in the last few days, though they’ve yet to impact college sports.

Either way, it doesn’t look like Borghi will be available to play in Saturday’s 8 p.m. game at Stanford – one of the Pac-12 schools that was strongly pursuing the running back out of Colorado’s Pomona High School.

For the third game in a row, Deon McIntosh should expect plenty of usage after rushing for a combined 239 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State and Oregon.

“I think he’s had a really good – I think I’ve said this, but real productive training camp and I think he’s enjoying the role he’s been awarded on this football team,” Rolovich said. “I think the O-line respects him, I think they enjoy blocking for him because they see him in pass pro stepping up and doing a little bit of their job, too.

“I think he’s really attacked this the right way. Head down, getting better every day, just working. It doesn’t need to be flashy, doesn’t need all the attention. Just wants to get out and play ball. I’m happy for him because I think it’s been a long journey for him.”

McIntosh, who came to WSU from East Mississippi Community College, isn’t taking the opportunity lightly. In his lone season with the Fighting Irish, McIntosh backed up 1,430-yard rusher Josh Adams. The next year at EMCC, he thrived as a feature back rushing for more than 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns. By the time he arrived on the Palouse, Borghi had already become a freshman sensation, and it was unlikely McIntosh would get many carries as a second-string back playing in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense.

The circumstances that have elevated McIntosh into a lead back role this season may be unfortunate, but the Florida native has grasped the opportunity without looking back.

“He’s fairly unique in that he’s longer than a lot of running backs,” Rolovich said. “But he’s got a strong running style and he gobbles up yards pretty well if he gets in the open field. I think you saw some of his straightaway speed. Probably didn’t know he had such good balance on some of these awkward runs, awkward hits he’s taken and stayed up. He’s got a lot of desire when he runs.”

After two games, Rolovich and his coaches know they don’t need to be concerned about McIntosh’s production, but they’ll have to monitor his usage as the Cougars get deeper into the season. The redshirt junior has accounted for 34 of the 35 running back carries already, and while McIntosh hasn’t shown any fatigue after two games, they don’t want his durability to be an issue down the road.

“It’s definitely something that is in the conversation,” Rolovich said. “We just feel he’s such a complete back in what we do right now. He’s played damn near every snap at running back, so that is something that’s been talked about, especially this week.”

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