Cat fight on senior night

Cougs welcome Wildcats to Pullman to close out home schedule



WSU running back Max Borghi (21) runs toward the endzone during the first half of a college football game on Oct. 23, 2021, at Martin Stadium.

TOM ABBOTT, Evergreen sports editor

WSU (5-5) plays its last home game of the season against Arizona (1-9) at 6 p.m. on Friday in Martin Stadium.

After losing last week to No. 3 Oregon, WSU’s chance of winning the Pac-12 North has dropped dramatically. Instead of playing for a spot in the Pac-12 championship, WSU now turns their focus to making a bowl game. Already at five wins, the Cougs need to win one of the last two games of the season to clinch a bowl game. 

Arizona travels to Pullman after losing last week to No. 24 Utah, 38-29. Arizona is showing some life in the latter half of the season, recording their only win of the season two weekends ago against Cal 10-3, followed by a commendable performance against a ranked team. 

Coming into Friday’s game, WSU is the heavy favorite for the first time in quite some time with an 85.2 percent chance of winning, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index

Leading WSU’s charge for bowl game eligibility will be quarterback Jayden de Laura. In his sophomore season, de Laura currently leads the Pac-12 in yards thrown with 2,247. He also has an impressive 19 touchdowns on the season.

De Laura will likely continue to target senior wide receivers Calvin Jackson Jr. and Travell Harris, who are second and third in the Pac-12 for receiving yards, respectively. Jackson Jr. leads the Cougar wide receivers with 754 total yards.

Trying to pull off the upset for Arizona will be quarterback Will Plummer. So far this year, Plummer has thrown three touchdowns and seven interceptions. Last year, Plummer threw zero touchdowns and three interceptions over 80 pass attempts.

“I think they’re really complicated to get prepared for on offense,” WSU interim head coach Jake Dickert said. “They do a lot of different things, you know, I think they’ve thrown like five or six trick plays per game in the last two games.”

Plummer is joined on offense by running backs Drake Anderson, Michael Wiley and Jalen John. All three running backs have over 200 yards on the season. Anderson has the most rushing yards for the Wildcats, with 267 yards and one touchdown.

“We got to be able to stop the run,” Dickert said. “I gotta do a better job of getting our guys in position this week.”

The Cougar defense will need to be more effective blocking lanes against Arizona than in the game against Oregon last week. One of the most important players for WSU being able to stop runs is linebacker Jahad Woods. Already in the Cougar record books for various accomplishments such as consecutive games played and total tackles, Woods is the second line of defense against run plays. In the loss against Oregon, Woods led the Cougars with 12 tackles.

WSU’s run game will be led by the usual pair of senior running backs, Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh. Borghi leads the Cougs with 612 rushing yards and a respectable eight touchdowns. McIntosh follows with 410 yards and two touchdowns. 

This week is the only Friday home game of the season for the Cougs. The Cougs will close out their regular season with a second consecutive Friday night game next week against Washington in Seattle.

“It’s already Tuesday in our mind,” Dickert said in a press conference on Monday. “We changed some practice stuff around; we’re gonna be practicing in the afternoon this week just to give out bodies some more time to rest and recover.”

Against Arizona, Borghi is likely to take the majority of snaps as his style of running is built on outside presence and blocking, something the Wildcats have struggled with this season. 

The WSU defense is part of a four-way tie for the fifth-most turnovers gained in the FBS with 22. A major key to this defensive success is edge Ron Stone Jr. In the Pac-12, Stone Jr. is fourth in sacks with five sacks on the year. Helping Stone Jr. put pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season is Brennan Jackson. Jackson is a two-time Pac-12 defensive lineman of the week this year, with 4.5 sacks over 10 games. 

WSU’s last home game of the season begins at 6 p.m. on Friday in Martin Stadium. Coverage of the game will be on the Pac-12 Network.