Hot seat gets hotter

Off-the-field questions, poor results swirl around Rolovich’s tenure; coach still has chance to correct mistakes

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COLE QUINN

WSU Head Coach Nick Rolovich walks to the sideline as a fan holds a sign at him Sept. 4 at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

AARIK LONG, Evergreen sports editor

After an off-season filled with off-the-field distractions, the Cougars walked into Martin Stadium in front of a packed student section. A night that should have been full of celebrations ended with heartbreak for the Cougs.

A loss to the Utah State Aggies put a definite damper on the mood of fans in and around Pullman. The Cougars committed a multitude of mistakes, but the blame sits squarely in one place. 

Starting with an issue that is blatantly obvious even if you did not watch the game, Max Borghi needs more touches. The star of the team ran the ball 11 times and had one reception. The best player wearing Crimson and Gray only got to touch the football 12 times in an upset loss.

On those 11 rushing attempts, Borghi averaged 7.8 yards per carry and scored a 64-yard touchdown. His one reception netted the Cougs 27 yards.

When you have a player that talented, you have to find a way to get the ball in his hands and let him make something happen. 

The next puzzling decision of the night came at the very beginning of the fourth quarter. With the Cougs sitting on the Utah State 2-yard line, head coach Nick Rolovich decided to take Jayden de Laura out of the game in favor of Cammon Cooper. Cooper entered the game for two plays in the wishbone formation. 

Both plays were handoffs to Borghi that lost yards. The defense dialed into a clear handoff situation and ate the plays up.

De Laura would re-enter the game on third down, but ultimately the Cougs would settle for a field goal. That four-point swing would prove to be devastating to WSU, who would go on to lose by three.

Why did WSU decide to make this decision at this time?

“That was my decision,” Rolovich said. “Hoping to get it on film going into the game.”

An attempt at making teams down the line have to spend time game-planning against a gimmick set ultimately cost WSU a win against a lesser opponent.

Then, when WSU got the ball back with 5:25 to go in the game and leading by just five, Rolovich and the coaching staff made their final head-scratcher of the night. 

With a chance to kill the clock and put the game to bed by running the ball, WSU decided to instead attempt to throw the ball three times in a row. These attempts resulted in two very short gains and a sack. 

There is no reason to be throwing the ball in this situation. When the game is on the line, put the ball in the hands of your best player. Give Borghi the rock and let him try to bleed the clock with a few rushing attempts. Instead, WSU attempted to get cute with it and gave Utah State the ball back with 3 minutes to go. 

The Aggies would score the game-winning touchdown with just 13 seconds left.

The loss to Utah State falls squarely on the shoulders of Rolovich and the coaching staff. Utah State had no business being in that game in the fourth quarter. And that is not a diss to the Aggies. It is just easy to see that WSU has a much more talented squad. 

Giving a team like Utah State their first-ever win against a Power Five opponent cannot happen. It especially can not happen when your seat is already hot. 

Calling Rolovich’s seat hot would be one of the biggest understatements of the year. Off-the-field issues on top of a lack of results on the field have had fans questioning his role with the team for months now.

Before the 2020 season, Kassidy Woods made the decision to opt out and not play the season in the midst of the pandemic. Following this decision, Woods was told he would no longer be allowed to participate in team activities. 

“[Rolovich] told me that I couldn’t be around the team at all, he cleaned out my locker, and then he took me off the team group chat,” Woods said. “His actions showed that I was cut from the team.”

Woods alleges this is because of his involvement in the Pac-12 unity movement. He bases this off of a phone call where Rolovich told Woods there would be an issue with him being a part of that movement.

More recently, Woods filed a lawsuit against both the coach and the university in his home state of Texas on Aug. 20. This surfaced just before the regular season began, causing more potential distractions for the team. 

Rolovich also had controversies surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine, as he was the only coach to not attend Pac-12 Media Day because of the fact that he was not vaccinated. This has also turned into a big story and led to many people calling for his job.

While it has become popular to request he be let go, I am not going to do that today. There is still time for Rolovich to right the ship and get things back in line. But if he does not act fast and get things fixed rapidly, there could be long-lasting negative effects on the football team. 

With everything off the field mixing with a lack of results on the field, Roloivch desperately needs to get a dominant win this weekend against Portland State and put a good performance together the following weekend against USC.

He needs to do something to cool the hot seat he occupies before someone gets burned.