One way or the other, in mid-October or late-November, Mother Nature was bound to interfere with Washington State’s late-starting 2020 football season.
The Cougars, with home dates on Nov. 14, Nov. 27 and Dec. 12 – technically, Dec. 19 isn’t out of the cards either – won’t be able to avoid the elements this fall/winter. Fortunately, they also won’t be blindsided.
Preseason camp opened three weeks ago on a cool, crisp October evening for WSU. Twenty-four hours later, the Cougars were tossing and catching footballs in a classic Pullman rainstorm. So, Friday’s snow dump provided another unique, but helpful, challenge for first-year coach Nick Rolovich and his football team.
Most either associate Rolovich with the four years he spent as the head coach at Hawaii, or the two years he spent on the sun-kissed shores of Honolulu as a quarterback for the Rainbow Warriors. Wedged in the middle of his coaching career, though, was a four-year stint as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in Reno, Nevada, which might not match Pullman on the thermometer but certainly isn’t immune to the occasional cold front.
Rolovich still made the appropriate apparel changes Friday, trading his normal Outback style hat for a crimson WSU beanie.
“I think most of us have coached in some different places and dealt with some weather,” Rolovich said. “Definitely good experience for me to see what it does for a practice, what it would do for a game. Really found the players didn’t flinch and it’s not as clean of a practice as you would want, but we have a chance to play in it this year, so you better get used to it.”
Anyone who has spent at least one full year playing college football on the Palouse won’t be thrown off by the snow that accumulated Friday on Rogers Field, but there are a few-dozen who haven’t.
That group includes freshman quarterback Jayden de Laura, who left Honolulu for the same reason Rolovich did: to pursue a can’t-miss football opportunity in the Pacific-12 Conference. But de Laura, unlike Rolovich, doesn’t have too many football experiences away from the island, and the few he does have certainly didn’t take place in a climate as cold as Pullman.
“I talked to some of the other Hawaii kids that came on the team, it was their first time practicing in snow,” Rolovich said. “I’m sure it was (de Laura’s) first time practicing in snow. I didn’t have that conversation with him. But there’s some guys, Fa’alili coming from Samoa, I don’t think he’s seen snow so I think it was a good experience for everyone who hasn’t experienced snow.”
A handful of snow reps could be crucial for de Laura, if he was to win the Cougars’ starting quarterback job. Following a 2018 Apple Cup most WSU fans are still trying to flush from their memory, quarterback Gardner Minshew acknowledged he’d never played a game in snow before huge flakes started falling on the Mississippi native at Martin Stadium in a 28-15 Cougar loss.
Rolovich was asked how he’d approach play-calling if the Cougars found themselves playing in a blizzard this season. The gist of the question seemed to be framed around the aforementioned 2018 game, when WSU went to the air 34 times and only had 16 designed runs. The Huskies had 36 rushing attempts to just 14 passing attempts.
“I think depending on how effective we were being throwing the ball,” Rolovich said. “I don’t care who touches the ball, I just want to see how we get it in the end zone the fastest, and the most efficiently.”
WSU’s quarterbacks, none of whom have likely played an official game in the snow with the exception of Utah native Cammon Cooper, were solid Friday despite the conditions, Rolovich said.
“Quarterbacks threw it better than I thought in the snow, to be honest with you,” Rolovich said. “And we have to concentrate on catching the ball.”
Most of the receivers who’ll play in WSU’s rotation this year already have experience on that front. Others will have to adjust. Joey Hobert, the true freshman from Southern California, would seemingly be part of the latter group, though Rolovich said the wideout, who hasn’t worn gloves in preseason camp, was bare-handed again Friday even as temperatures dipped below freezing.
“He came in that way,” Rolovich said. “He makes more one-handed catches than I’ve ever seen. So it must be working for him.”
Rushing dies at 48
John Rushing, a four-year starter for the Cougars under Mike Price who has since spent 25 years coaching high school, college and professional football, died Friday morning at the age of 48.
The former WSU defensive back didn’t miss a start for the Cougars from 1991-94, setting a school record at the time, and played for the lockdown defensive units under Price that became known as the “Palouse Posse.” Rushing was a Freshman All-American at WSU in 1991 and was named All-Pac-10 each of his four years with the program. He’s still in the top 10 at WSU in career tackles.
Following his prolific playing days at WSU, Rushing had a brief professional stint in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys in 1996, then launched his coaching career. Rushing coached at Boise State, Montana State and Utah State before moving on to the NFL, where he worked in a variety of roles with both the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams.
Rushing had two stints in the Pac-12, as a safeties coach at Oregon State in 2017 and at Arizona in 2018 and 2019.
“Today we lost a great Coug in John Rushing,” Rolovich tweeted. “WSU football would like to send our condolences to John Rushing’s family, teammates and friends. Though his contributions on the field were large, sounds like he was loved for the person, husband, and father he was. #RIP10”
Others, including standout Arizona QB Khalil Tate, mourned Rushing’s death on social media.
“Wow man, RIP Coach Rush,” Tate tweeted. “He always pushed me to be the best I can be, and may his soul Rest In Peace.”
Scrimmage on deck
It might not resemble the team’s initial scrimmage, but Saturday the Cougars will hold another mock game of sorts.
“We won’t have as many reps (Saturday), we’ll have a lot more situational stuff,” Rolovich said. “I don’t know that there will be, you get that many snaps, the distribution to all the receivers. I’d just guess it wouldn’t be as similar to Saturday, just because the reps will be down.”
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