This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2019 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.
Max Borghi made a man cry.
Troy Dye has been one of the most prolific tacklers in the Pac-12 in his three years with the Oregon Ducks. By the time he squared up to Washington State Cougars running back Borghi in the flat, Dye had logged roughly 250 tackles in his all-Pac-12 career. Borghi was playing in his seventh collegiate game. The freshman made a subtle cut, Dye dove fruitlessly, and Borghi charged into the end zone.
One-on-one nightmare Max Borghi adds to the mayhem on the Palouse— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) October 21, 2018
(via @Pac12Network) pic.twitter.com/ZTh9sbXOOP
Moments later, Dye was in tears on the sideline.
On the cusp of his sophomore season, Borghi is in line to get many more chances to leave would-be tacklers blubbering. The early departure of James Williams to the NFL has left Borghi as the top guy at running back. The late addition of Deon McIntosh to the Cougar roster means Borghi won’t be the only experienced runner in the backfield, but Borghi will at the very least be getting the share of touches in 2019 that Williams received in 2018 — roughly 16 per game.
That doesn’t sound like much for a feature back, but in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense predicated on spreading the ball around, that’s still more than anyone but the quarterback. It would come as no surprise to see Borghi get the ball even more, given the playmaking ability he showed as a true freshman.
An Improbable Route to Pullman
One week after Borghi left tears in his wake in a decisive WSU win over Oregon, he scored again as part of a comeback victory over the Stanford Cardinal. That was an easy touchdown, as a well-designed play and a key block from Easop Winston, Jr. let the running back stroll into the end zone without embarrassing any linebackers.
After the game, Cardinal head coach David Shaw was downright emotional about the loss. Perhaps it was because his team’s Pac-12 title game chances just took a major hit. Perhaps it was because he had lost for a third year in a row to Washington State after changing his entire tactical philosophy to try and catch them off guard.
Or, perhaps, maybe a little bit of it was a freshman running back for WSU who had contributed to the loss — one he tried to flip to Stanford just 10 months prior. It’s not often that a player chooses WSU over Stanford, but Borghi was given that exact choice in the December 2017 early signing period. After being committed to WSU, the Cardinal came in to make him second-guess his future.
It had to be tempting; the academic prowess of Stanford is unmatched west of the Mississippi. That’s not the only thing: There’s no doubt Shaw’s pitch included the Cardinal’s recent history of star running backs, from Toby Gerhart to Christian McCaffrey to Bryce Love. McCaffrey had to be the biggest draw — as a fellow former Colorado high school standout, McCaffrey was something of a mentor to Borghi. On top of that, Borghi had already flipped once from the Colorado Buffaloes to WSU.
That Stanford offer certainly had Borghi thinking, and it left WSU on pins and needles. The first day of the early signing period, when the vast majority of recruits now send in their signed letters of intent, came and went without a word from Borghi. However, two days later, he officially spurned the late push from Stanford and signed with Washington State.
Borghi ultimately was intrigued by the promise of early playing time after WSU lost two of its top running backs in 2017 to graduation, as well as the ability to build his own Cougar legacy. Finally, he felt loyal to former WSU running backs coach Jim Mastro. That touchdown against Oregon felt just a little better with Mastro on the opposing sideline. We know because Borghi said so.
Making an Immediate Impact
That promise of early playing time was delivered. In his first game as a Cougar, Borghi scored two touchdowns. The first was a swing pass out of the backfield — the same kind that he would later score on against Oregon, Stanford, and others:
The second was an icing-on-the-cake rushing touchdown that made the final tally look just a little bit better:
His early play was impressive, but perhaps the most striking thing was his strength and balance as a true freshman. He looked beyond his years physically, and it was soon apparent that he was going to be an immediate impact player for the Cougs.
Borghi certainly was that type of player. He finished his first season at Wazzu with 740 total yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns. He averaged a team-best 5.1 yards per carry as he piled up stellar plays that haven’t even been mentioned yet along the way — an incredible cut to avoid a minimum of three tacklers in the fourth quarter against Cal comes to mind. The eight rushing touchdowns were mash-up of Borghi breaking tackles and breaking ankles in succession—just ask Iowa State or Oregon State or USC or Colorado.
Time to Break Out
It’s accepted that the biggest leaps for college football players typically come from their freshman season to their sophomore season. If that’s true, Borghi stands to have a breakout season as the non-quarterback that will be touching the ball the most on a loaded WSU offense.
The fact that WSU is so stacked at wide receiver would seem to make it tougher for a running back to make a major impact, but Borghi is too good of an offensive weapon not to deploy with frequency.
Time will tell if Borghi will make another man cry, but in his sophomore campaign he figures to make many clad in Crimson and Gray smile from ear-to-ear.