Oregon Washington St Football

Washington State running back Deon McIntosh (3) carries the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Oregon in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Oregon won 43-29. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

SPOKANE — Nick Rolovich didn’t rule out the possibility of Max Borghi returning this season, but the coach’s comments Monday night didn’t inspire much confidence that Washington State’s junior running back would be plowing through defenders in a crimson uniform anytime soon.

The preseason All-Pac-12 first-team selection has missed consecutive games because of a back injury, and Rolovich was asked Monday night if he expects Borghi to return this season.

“I don’t know,” Rolovich said. “Still going day by day on that one. I guess we’ll see how long the season goes.”

The final sentence of Rolovich’s comment might be interpreted one of two ways. If the Cougars win at least three of their final five games, they become bowl-eligible, with an opportunity to play an eighth game in late December, conceivably giving Borghi more time to rehab.

It’s also possible Rolovich was referencing the current college-football climate, which seems to have the potential to crumble at any given moment. After two weeks, the Pac-12 has been able to play just eight of the 12 games on the original schedule, and most states within the conference’s footprint have recently tightened COVID-19 restrictions, though they’ve yet to impact college sports.

Either way, it doesn’t look like Borghi will be available to play in the 8 p.m. game Saturday at Stanford — one of the Pac-12 schools that strongly recruited the running back out of Colorado’s Pomona High School.

For the third game in a row, Deon McIntosh should expect plenty of carries after rushing for a combined 239 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State and Oregon.

“I think he’s had a really good start — I think I’ve said this, but real productive training camp, and I think he’s enjoying the role he’s been awarded on this football team,” Rolovich said. “I think the O-line respects him, I think they enjoy blocking for him, because they see him in pass (protection) stepping up and doing a little bit of their job, too.

“I think he’s really attacked this the right way. Head down, getting better every day, just working. It doesn’t need to be flashy, doesn’t need all the attention. Just wants to get out and play ball. I’m happy for him, because I think it’s been a long journey for him.”

McIntosh, who came to WSU from East Mississippi Community College, isn’t taking the opportunity lightly. McIntosh began his college career at Notre Dame, and in his lone season there he backed up 1,430-yard rusher Josh Adams.

The next year at EMCC, McIntosh rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns. By the time McIntosh arrived on the Palouse, Borghi had become a freshman sensation, and it was unlikely McIntosh would get many carries as a second-string back playing in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense.

The circumstances that have elevated McIntosh into a lead-back role this season might be unfortunate for the team as a whole, but the Florida native has grasped the opportunity.

“He’s fairly unique in that he’s longer than a lot of running backs,” Rolovich said of the 6-foot, 190-pound McIntosh. “But he’s got a strong running style, and he gobbles up yards pretty well if he gets in the open field. I think you saw some of his straightaway speed. Probably didn’t know he had such good balance on some of these awkward runs, awkward hits he’s taken and stayed up. He’s got a lot of desire when he runs.”

After two games, Rolovich and his coaches know they’ll have to monitor his usage as the Cougars get deeper into the season. The redshirt junior has accounted for 34 of the 35 running-back carries, and though McIntosh hasn’t shown any fatigue after two games, they don’t want his durability to be an issue down the road.

“It’s definitely something that is in the conversation,” Rolovich said. “We just feel he’s such a complete back in what we do right now. He’s played damn near every snap at running back, so that is something that’s been talked about, especially this week.”

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