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Washington State returns to practice after four-day pause; Cougars ‘hopeful’ about Max Borghi return

Oregon Ducks running back CJ Verdell (7) is brought down by WSU during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, November 14, 2020, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Washington State held football practice Wednesday afternoon.

Any other year, that would be a normal part of the game-week schedule in late November – news not worth sharing. In 2020, however, it’s a significant milestone for a team that hadn’t been in pads since last Thursday, one day before WSU’s game at Stanford and three days before it was determined the Cougars wouldn’t be able to play Washington in this Friday’s Apple Cup, with nine players in COVID-19 protocol.

After a walkthrough on Friday, the Cougars took a four-day pause before resuming football activities, 10 days ahead of the next game on their schedule: Dec. 4 at USC (6 p.m., FS1).

Despite missing the last two Pac-12 games, first-year coach Nick Rolovich has a better feeling about the next one, even with a handful of players still quarantining or isolating. 

“I’ve got a high level of confidence, I do,” Rolovich said Wednesday in a Zoom call with reporters. “We’re planning that way. Way more confident than we were when we canceled Stanford. I think we’ve got a real chance and I’ve been in communication with (USC coach) Clay (Helton).”

WSU’s athletic department currently has 12 players in COVID-19 protocol, with at least nine of those coming from the football team. Rolovich indicated the short hiatus away from the field was partly an effort to ensure the virus wouldn’t continue to spread through the team. The coach said on his radio show Tuesday the Cougars had “a few days of negatives,” referring to COVID-19 tests.

“We weren’t going to start until we had a good idea of how far this had gone,” Rolovich said. “So, if it hadn’t gone positive, we wouldn’t have gone on the field today. Kids have been dynamite about it. They understand. There’s some that were terribly disappointed.”

The Trojans had one player test positive for COVID-19 Monday night. That player, who traveled to their game at Utah, showed symptoms of the virus, and USC announced Wednesday one other player tested positive while five others were placed in quarantine. That hasn’t changed the status of the Trojans’ upcoming game against Colorado, the school said in a press release.

Rolovich said the coaching staff began reviewing film of the Trojans Sunday night. The team itself began scouting USC during Wednesday’s practice in Pullman.

“We talk about how disappointed I’m sure everyone is that there wasn’t an Apple Cup this week, but you flip it and go straight to USC,” Rolovich said. “Almost becomes like a bonus bye week type deal. So today was really the heavy introduction (to USC).”

The possibility of holding the Apple Cup on Dec. 19, when Pac-12 teams not in the conference championship game are scheduled to play crossover games, has gained traction since the initial game was canceled and both sides seem open to the idea. 

“I would hope so, I don’t have any information on that,” Rolovich said. “I think as soon as the decision was made, all the options were on the table. From what I understand, it’s a high priority. I know it is on our side, I know Jimmy (Lake) and a couple of coaches, I think it’s a game they want to play also.”

Borghi eyeing return

On Saturday, injured running back Max Borghi offered social media users a hint that he may return to the field this season, replying “fake news” to a tweet that suggested the junior would be sidelined the rest of the way.

Rolovich offered more insight on Borghi’s status during Wednesday’s availability.

“Every day is a positive thing for Max,” the coach said. “… I do expect him to start progression – obviously you’ve got to start at practice, but I think that’ll happen fairly soon.”

Will Borghi have an opportunity to suit up for the Cougars at some point in the next three weeks?

“We’re hopeful. We are hopeful,” Rolovich said. “I know he is. I know he wants to go.”