MOSCOW, Idaho – Football players practice to master intricate details and become proficient in the precise, repeatable delivery of a play.
Against Eastern Washington last Saturday, Zach Borisch offered a surprising, countering insight – no practice, no constraints. As Idaho’s fifth-string quarterback pressed into duty when the four ahead of him were unable to participate, and with only three practices and a walkthrough to prepare for the nationally ranked Eagles with an entirely new offense tailored to him, Borisch found a world of possibilities of spins, cutbacks, sprints to daylight and leg-churning moving of the pile.
“It seemed like a lot of my big runs weren’t exactly hitting where they were supposed to,” Borish said. “Like, I was supposed to run speed option to the left, and I would end up cutting it back to the right and running the opposite way. … Sometimes I didn’t even motion players I was supposed to. (Vandals coach Paul Petrino) would call a motion, and I would completely forget to motion somebody and just run the ball.”
The Eagles got control of the improvisational display and edged Idaho 38-31, but Borisch finished with 205 yards rushing and two touchdowns – one on the ground and one passing.
This got him in the Vandals’ record book . The only QB with more rushing yards in a game, “Wee Willie” Smith, rushed for 282 yards against Gonzaga on Oct. 8, 1932. Borisch’s accomplishment is likely to live long in Vandals lore.
But the immediate impact may be the attitude Idaho takes into its final game against Northern Arizona (2-2). The Vandals’ freewheeling experience against EWU appears to be resonating with teammates.
All-Big Sky Conference linebacker Christian Elliss, who made 15 tackles against the Eagles, and who has 51 for the season, is keeping the possibility of returning next fall in his back pocket. His immediate plan is to move on to the NFL and Idaho’s game against NAU may well be his last as a college player.
If it is, Elliss plans to go out grinning.
“It didn’t really hit me until these last two games to just enjoy it,” Elliss said.
The Vandals (2-3) had hopes of qualifying for Football Championship Subdivision playoffs until losing back-to-back close games at Idaho State and EWU. For Elliss, however, the surging momentum shifts in those games made them the most enjoyable of the season.
“Go out there and have fun, dance,” he said. “When you make a play, celebrate. This is a really special and unique time. We only get this opportunity once in our life, and so why not go out there and have the most fun with it?
“I think for a while there I got caught up in trying to overthink, trying to impress NFL scouts, focusing on the wrong things instead of just having fun.”
In a highly unusual pandemic spring season in which most bets were off, the Vandals head back to the scene of their 60-53 overtime win in 2019, a game featuring 563 yards of offense for Idaho, with quarterback Mason Petrino throwing for six touchdowns and Jeff Cotton making a program-record 18 receptions.
In their most recent game, the Lumberjacks scored 28 consecutive points to overtake Southern Utah 28-20. Keondre Wudtee threw for 289 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 38 yards and two more scores to earn Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors.
This spring, George Robinson, 6-foot-2, 230-pounder, has averaged 4.8 yards per carry while scoring two touchdowns. NAU has capable receivers in Stacy Chukwumezie (14 receptions, 233 yards, one touchdown) and Coleman Owen (15 receptions, 213 yards, one touchdown).
“They’ve always done a really good job on offense mixing it up,” Petrino said. “They probably throw more screens than anybody we face this year, and that’s something we’ve got to stop.”
Borisch’s uninhibited play may have made its way onto the coaching staff. Petrino said every quarterback who has played for the Vandals this spring – Mike Beaudry, C.J. Jordan, Nikhil Nayar and Borisch – could see action against NAU.
Petrino said the value of flying to Flagstaff to play one more game provides useful experience for next fall.
“That’s why you go to college, to play football,” he said. “That’s why you coach, to play games.”
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