In games played between Saturday and Thursday, Washington State went undefeated last year. But that’s not how Max Borghi wants to look at things as his team prepares for its version of Friday Night Lights in Texas.
That 0-2 record on Fridays last season? Immaterial.
“We don’t care about last year,” the WSU running back said, summarily dismissing the winningest season in school history. “It’s a new year. I don’t think the day has anything to do with the results from last year. I think we’re going to be just fine.”
After outscoring its first two opponents by a combined 93 points at home, Wazzu (2-0) brings plenty of optimism into a game at 6:15 Pacific tonight against another band of Cougars, of Houston (1-1), in a duel of Air Raid offenses. The northern Cougars are ranked 20th in the country and favored by 9½ points according to Pregame.com.
But amid the rosy scenario, there are a few thorns.
This is considered a neutral-site game because it’s being played at NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, about 10 miles from the UH campus. That’s probably OK with the players in general, who tend to relish NFL venues, and for WSU players in particular, whose version of the Air Raid operates best in controlled environments. NRG has a retractable roof.
But to Wazzu coaches and staff members, the game poses most of the usual challenges of a road game and then some.
College football games on Fridays, once rare but now commonplace TV vehicles – in this case ESPN – force teams to speed up their practice schedule and break up their routine. They’re especially problematic for the road team, which doesn’t accomplish much on its travel day.
For whatever reason, Friday games have seen the Mike Leach-era Cougars go 0-6 on the road and 2-7 overall. Coincidentally or not, their Friday games last year resulted in a 39-36 loss at USC and a 28-15 snowfest at home against Washington — the only blemishes in an 11-2 season. Now, in trekking from Pullman to Houston, they’re facing the longest trip they’ve taken for a Friday game.
Nonetheless, their breezy routs of New Mexico State and Northern Colorado the past two weeks have freshened the self-confidence they spent last year building.
“Obviously, there’s a little challenge just traveling,” Borghi said. “We’ve just got to go out there and bring our own energy. I know we’re a team that has a lot of energy, and when we go out there we’re going to shock them. They’re not going to be ready for what’s coming.”
He was thinking primarily of a Wazzu offense that, among teams that have played at least twice, leads the nation in passing. He was thinking of quarterback Anthony Gordon, who has completed 60 of 74 throws, connecting with nine receivers.
He perhaps also was thinking of the contrasting states of these Air Raids. Leach has been running the system for seven-plus years at Wazzu, while his former disciple, Dana Holgorsen, is in his first season at Houston.
He’s got a dual-threat quarterback in D’Eriq King, who has passed for 306 yards and run for 131 gross. But he’s also got a defense that allowed 686 yards in a season-opening 49-31 loss at Oklahoma.
“They played an Air Raid-style offense a couple of weeks ago with Oklahoma, and you saw how that turned out,” Borghi said. “They’re going to game-plan against us, but it’s hard to game-plan against us because we’ve got weapons all over the board.”
Both teams are looking to clean up issues that arose last week in wins against Football Championship Subdivision teams. Houston languished in the second half of a 37-17 defeat of Prairie View A&M, while Wazzu’s run defense struggled in a 59-17 romp against Northern Colorado.
“Obviously, it was Northern Colorado,” Borghi said, “so there’s just small little errors we’ve got to improve on. I think Houston is going to be a good challenge for us because they’re a solid team, they’re a sound team, so it’s going to really show who we are, truly.”
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