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‘Good chance’ Washington State returns Jayden de Laura, Max Borghi on Saturday

Washington State running back Max Borghi (21) carries the ball against the Utah State Aggies during the first half of a nonconference game Sept. 4 at Gesa Field in Pullman, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – He didn’t provide any concrete news, but Nick Rolovich at least offered an encouraging update.

The Washington State football coach said “there’s a good chance” quarterback Jayden de Laura and running back Max Borghi return to the field Saturday when WSU visits Pac-12 foe Cal at 2:30 p.m. in Berkeley.

“There’s a good chance we can get them both, and I’ll leave it like that,” Rolovich said Wednesday after practice at Gesa Field.

De Laura, the sophomore from Hawaii, was held out of the Cougs’ 24-13 loss to Utah last weekend in Salt Lake City with a left leg injury suffered the week before in the second quarter against Southern Cal.

Borghi, who’s widely considered WSU’s most talented player , had his left arm twisted up underneath a Utes defender in the second quarter last weekend. He was sidelined for the remainder of the contest.

Rolovich said earlier this week that de Laura was “close” to being cleared by the team’s medical personnel ahead of the Utah game. Borghi’s X-rays came back negative, he added.

Missing its two most dynamic playmakers, the Cougars’ offense stalled versus the Utes and recorded just 106 yards in the second half.

WSU (1-3, 0-2 Pac-12) has tallied one touchdown in the past six quarters.

“I just think we’re better than 13 points and 14 points the last two games,” Rolovich said. “We’re just better than that. We have more talent than that, so we have to look at it to see how we can improve it.”

The Cougars’ defense collected a takeaway early in the third period against Utah, setting up backup quarterback Jarrett Guarantano’s 26-yard scoring strike to De’Zhaun Stribling.

It was WSU’s longest gain of the day, and sixth longest in four games this year. The Cougs made five first downs the rest of the way. Guarantano threw two interceptions and WSU punted three times.

“I thought we did a good exercise (Monday), watching the game as a whole offense,” Rolovich said. “I think it was time to be real honest with everyone, because I think there were plays to be made and we didn’t make them, and we gotta look at what our guys can execute well in a game-time situation. That was kind of the gist of our discussion.”

Rolovich spent the majority of Wednesday’s media session fielding questions concerning his team’s offensive shortcomings.

At the top of the docket was the quarterback situation, which has not been settled all year. Rolovich said he’d prefer to stick with one QB going forward. De Laura has been the Cougars’ most effective option so far.

“We need consistency from that group. We need leadership from that group,” Rolovich said. “We need them to make everyone around them better. It’s been a pretty roller coaster-type ride with the quarterback position this year. Hopefully, we get down to some stability here soon.”

Guarantano should have thrown a couple of passes safely out of bounds rather than lingering too long in the pocket against Utah, Rolovich noted.

The Cougs surrendered eight sacks, a major factor in their average of 1.9 yards per rushing attempt. Although he admitted there could have been more push from the group, Rolovich stood up for his offensive line. WSU could stand to “run the ball harder” at times and its QBs could help out by getting rid of the ball more quickly.

“It’s not like they’re a negative to this team,” he said of the O-line. “It’s a tough game and they have a tough job. They get a lot of the brunt when a number like that gets thrown out (eight sacks). We watched it as an offense and they saw that it’s some on the quarterback – gotta get the ball out. I think we can throw the ball away more. I’ve lost no confidence in them. They’re the group that really kind of can hold us together.”

The offense has been “anemic,” Rolovich said Saturday – too often it relies on short passes and has its ground held in check. Its lack of fireworks early this season has spurred Rolovich and his staff to reevaluate the run-and-shoot somewhat.

The second-year boss was asked to explain why his offense has struggled to fashion chunk gains this year, and he replied that it comes down to execution of the plays.

“That one (the Utah game) was hard to watch because there were some things that we didn’t take advantage of,” he said.

“For some reason, our guys didn’t do it, and … we gotta look at how we’re coaching, how we’re teaching them, and see if we can improve that this next week.”