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Pac-12 preview: Washington State enters new season with a QB battle and defensive concerns to correct

In final game of 2020 season, Cougars led Utes 28-7 at the break before surrendering 38 unanswered points at Rice-Eccles Stadium

Washington State coach Nick Rolovich looks on during game against Utah, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Salt Lake City.
Washington State coach Nick Rolovich looks on during game against Utah, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Rolovich is entering his second year at the helm of the Cougars and has things that need cleaning up on the defensive side the ball.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Editor’s note: Last in a series of stories examining the 12 football programs in the Pac-12.

In the season finale to cap a bizarre 2020 Pac-12 football season, Utah rallied from a 28-7 halftime deficit to score 38 unanswered points and beat Washington State at Rice-Eccles Stadium, 45-28.

WSU visits the Utes again in Salt Lake City on Sept. 25 and also hosts BYU on Oct. 23. The Cougars open the season on Sept. 4 against Utah State.

How will Washington State fare in Year 2 under coach Nick Rolovich?

Freshman quarterback Jayden de Laura had a solid season in 2020. Rolovich brought in Tennessee transfer QB Jarrett Guarantano to the QB room and former Lehi star Cammon Cooper is also in the mix.

The Cougars have lost some offensive weapons from last season but star running back Max Borghi returns. Borghi recorded 86 receptions and 16 total touchdowns in 2019 before playing sparingly due to injury in 2020. Deon McIntosh has also proven to be a solid back after running for 323 yards last season.

Defensively, WSU gave up a whopping 38.5 points and 462 yards per game, so there’s plenty of room for improvement on that side of the ball. One bright spot is at linebacker, where the Cougars boast Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers.

Word on the street

“The offense never got a chance to get going in the four-game season, and now the parts are in place to do a whole lot more than 384 yards and 27 points per game. It all starts with hoping to get a whole lot more out of the passing attack. It’s a Nick Rolovich-coached team — the production will be there. Tennessee transfer Jarrett Guarantano hurt his hand during the spring game, and he has to prove he can be more consistent than he was with the Vols, but he’s got the skills to make this thing go. It’s going to be a fight for the gig, though, with last year’s starter Jayden de Laura and junior Cammon Cooper still in the fight.”

— Pete Fiutak, writing for College Football News

By the numbers

2020 record: 1-3 (1-3 Pac-12)

Returning starters: Offense: 9, Defense: 7

Local ties

QB Cammon Cooper (Lehi HS)

DB William Overstreet (Lehi HS)

LB Lolani Langi (Bingham HS)

OL Rodrick Tialavea (Highland HS)

2021 schedule

Sept. 4 Utah State

Sept. 11 Portland State

Sept. 18 USC

Sept. 25 @ Utah

Oct. 2 @ California

Oct. 9 Oregon State

Oct. 16 Stanford

Oct. 23 BYU

Oct. 30 @ Arizona State

Nov. 13 @ Oregon

Nov. 19 Arizona

Nov. 26 @ Washington