This is the next installment in our series of stories previewing the 2021 Washington State Cougars football season. For other installments, click here.
This is a year for college football quite unlike any other, following a year of college football ... quite unlike any other. What can we truly glean from the Washington State Cougars’ 2020 season, shortened from the outset by COVID and shortened multiple times in season by the same issue? It’s a question that we may not be able to answer until this season is at least part of the way over.
Without knowing much though, we can be assured there is the best way things might go and certainly the worst way. Things could completely break to Washington State in every conceivable way ... and it could also do quite the opposite. So what would happen if everything did go Wazzu’s way?
The Best-Case Scenario
The Cougars get off to a hot start against the Utah State Aggies, making easy work of their first of two visitors from the Beehive State 42-17. Max Borghi’s final campaign in a Cougars uniform gets off to a hot start with 140 yards on the ground and a couple of touchdowns. Jahad Woods puts the conference on notice right away with a dozen tackles, two of them sacks.
There’s no repeat of the 2015 nightmare here as WSU does what they should to the Portland State Vikings, beating their Big Sky opponent 56-10. Both Jayden de Laura and Jarrett Guarantano get run at quarterback but Nick Rolovich settles on the Hawaiian to be the permanent starter for the remainder of the season.
For the first time in all too long, the USC Trojans are forced to make the “slog” to the Palouse and, as they’ve often experienced in Pullman, they have trouble putting the Cougs away. Southern Cal and Wazzu go back and forth for 59 minutes before the defense loses contain on Kedon Slovis and he scampers 10 yards for the go ahead touchdown. Travell Harris gets the Cougs in striking distance off the ensuing kick but a 60-yard heave from Jayden de Laura falls short and the Cougs drop a close 35-31 contest.
Late Septembers have been good to the Cougs in Salt Lake City, and 2021’s edition is no different. In a block reminiscent of Robert Lewis, Calvin Jackson springs Donovan Ollie for a 65-yard touchdown pitch and catch in the fourth quarter. The Washington State defense manages to hold on, albeit with some close moments, to put the Utah Utes away 24-19.
It takes a very special edition of the Cougs to get over The Cal Bulls**t and this squad is apparently the one to do it. Justin Wilcox’s squad is as overhyped as many thought and they look completely lost defending the Run and Shoot, letting De Laura and his receivers run roughshod over them in Strawberry Canyon to the tune of 45-21. It gets bad enough by the fourth quarter that even the people on Tightwad Hill have gotten back in their Teslas to drive back to Redwood City.
If there’s one team the Cougs have dominated in recent years, it’s the Oregon State Beavers and their Martin Stadium nightmares continue. Sam Hoyer throws four picks, including a run back for a touchdown to Jaylen Watson who high steps the last 20 yards and leaps into the band section en route to a 52-21 win. Jonathan Smith calls several more of Rolovich’s recruits as he decides to drive back to Corvallis instead of flying.
The Stanford Cardinal are exactly who we thought they were with the private jets all making the early exodus back to the “cheap” private airport in San Jose. David Shaw is still flabbergasted that he can’t find a way to beat Wazzu as he takes a peak at a 38-17 box score in the conference room in Bohler.
In a battle for #GoCougs supremacy, the BYU Cougars finally make their oft delayed return trip to Pullman. Though the game is sold out, the bars are as empty as ever without visiting fans trying to figure out how to order from The Coug. Kalani Sitake roams the sidelines like a mad man as usual, but it doesn’t help get his team over the hump against a now top-25 ranked opponent looking to make some noise. The Good Cougs strike late with a 35-yard scamper from Deon McIntosh to seal a 31-27 win over Brigham Young.
The nightmares created by running quarterbacks continue and the only antiseptic to the sting from Jayden Daniels dominate performance is that the alums are in Tempe for Halloween. The Arizona State Sun Devils never get too far ahead of the Cougs but it never seemed as though WSU had a chance, falling 38-27 at a sun soaked Sun Devil Stadium.
It seems hardly fair that the Oregon Ducks visit to Pullman last year came without a crowd, especially given how boisterous the 55,000-plus are in Eugene. The Cougs do their best to stay away from Kayvon Thibodeaux but he gets to De Laura just enough to keep them behind the chains at the worst of times. The defense tries to do their part but a late touchdown scamper from CJ Verdell puts the game out of a reach, a less than decisive but still gut wrenching 41-31 loss.
The Arizona Wildcats always seem to make their visit to Pullman in November, quite the luck of the draw for a team from southern Arizona. Not only is the weather cold again, it’s a short week for Jedd Fisch’s crew with Gunnar Cruz throwing three picks in his former home stadium. Jayden de Laura crests 30 touchdown passes on the year and the Cougs cruise to a 35-13 win.
Is this year finally the damn year? Is it FINALLY the year the Cougs can get past the Washington Huskies? As it turns out, it is, thanks in part to an injury to Richard Newton and a defensive line decimated by COVID diagnosis. Jayden de Laura scampers into the west endzone at Husky Stadium to cap a 31-21 win, rolls under the suites, grabs two Busch Lights and drinks them Stone Cold style.
The Cougs slide into the Holiday Bowl to face Mack Brown’s North Carolina Tar Heels and then send them back to the Research Triangle a loss richer, beating UNC 27-20. Max Borghi decides he just hasn’t had enough and exercises his additional year of eligibility. The school announces they’ve raised enough money to built the IPF and they begin knocking out the west end bleachers to put in ground level suites.
The Worst-Case Scenarios
COVID cases force the Cougs to forfeit every game except the Apple Cup. They lose.