Washington State coach Nick Rolovich talked during training camp about how he liked the mentality and the togetherness of his football team, and said he believed it would handle adversity better than it had during a 1-3 season in 2020.
Adversity has certainly hit, and after just one game.
That’s the byproduct of blowing a 12-point lead to Utah State in the final minutes last Saturday and losing 26-23 at home to a team that was a 17-point underdog.
“I think this team is open to the truth enough to look at themselves honestly,” Rolovich said Monday. “And there is a tight bond that I think adds to the effect of that conversation.”
The Cougars now face a Saturday home game against an FCS opponent — Portland State — that seems like a must-win situation with USC and much tougher opponents looming in the weeks ahead.
“I’m glad we didn’t just fold, but we’ve got to finish,” Rolovich said of the loss to Utah State, talking about the final minutes of the game and offensive drives that ended with field goals instead of touchdowns. “We’re 0-1 and we have the Vikings coming up. We can learn from it and change, but we need to get better.”
The Cougars are about two-touchdown favorites against Portland State, which lost 49-35 in its opener at Hawaii. Offense was not an issue for the Vikings, who had 477 yards of offense against the Rainbow Warriors, including 400 yards passing from senior quarterback Davis Alexander from Gig Harbor.
“He is exciting, he is in control and he throws with confidence,” Rolovich said of Alexander. “They’ve got some good players.”
If Washington State needed another reason to take Portland State seriously, it could look at the last meeting between the teams, in 2015, when PSU pulled off a 24-17 shocker in Pullman.
“I told the team if I was (Portland State), I would make them believe there is a wounded animal up in Pullman and go finish them off,” Rolovich said. “That’s the reality of it. … It’s on us to heal, flush it, bury the dead and move on.
“I would have been a lot more worried about this team if (the loss to Utah State) had happened a year ago. But it hurts. Everybody hurts.”
Sophomore Jayden de Laura is expected to start at quarterback. It would make his job easier if the running game, led by senior Max Borghi, could get going.
Borghi rushed 11 times for 86 yards, but did not have a lot of success other than a 64-yard touchdown run.
Rolovich cited that overall lack of success when asked why Borghi did not get more than 12 touches (11 rushes, one reception).
“But I understand the question,” the coach said.
The questions will get tougher, no doubt, if WSU doesn’t win this week. And after last week, the Cougars cannot afford to be looking ahead to the Sept. 18 game against USC.
“The reality is, we play one game this week,” Rolovich said. “This isn’t about USC, this isn’t about Utah. If we don’t play good this week, or if we play great this week, it doesn’t change who is coming next week. I think if we can play one game per week and not let some of the other noise creep in, we will be better off.”