McIntosh proves himself as a starter

Washington State running back Deon McIntosh (16) trots into the end zone during the second quarter of a Pac-12 Conference football game against Oregon State on Saturday night at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

COUGAR NOTES

At Notre Dame and Washington State, Deon McIntosh showed he can succeed as a backup.

Now, he’s a proven starter.

A surprise fill-in for WSU star running back Max Borghi, McIntosh tallied several impressive second-effort gains and finished with 147 rushing yards Saturday in the Cougars’ 38-28 season-opening win at Oregon State. It was the program’s highest individual rushing total since Dwight Tardy’s 214 against UCLA in 2007.

“He’s had a wonderful, really productive training camp, a really consistent training camp,” first-year WSU coach Nick Rolovich said of the senior from Pompano Beach, Fla., during the postgame news conference. “I obviously wish Max was with us, but Deon has shown — I think we knew it — that he can be very productive in our offense. I think he showed everybody tonight.”

There’s no indication of why Borghi remained in Pullman for that game, or whether he’ll be available for a Pac-12 home contest Saturday at Martin Stadium against No. 11 Oregon (4:10 p.m., Fox).

McIntosh rushed for 368 yards and five touchdowns as a second-year freshman backup for Notre Dame in 2017, but was kicked off the team for an undisclosed violation of team rules during the Irish’s stay at the Citrus Bowl that season in Orlando, Fla.

He washed ashore at East Mississippi Community College and rushed for 1,150 yards in 2018. As a junior transfer last year at WSU, he showed flashes of brilliance but was overshadowed by Borghi and limited to 111 rushing yards for the season. Technically, he started one game because the Cougs opened with a two-back set.

His real first start came Saturday, and he jumped on the opportunity.

TRAVELL’S TRIBUTE — After the second of his three touchdowns at Oregon State, WSU slotback Travell Harris held up two fingers and then six — an understated tribute to Bryce Beekman, the WSU safety who died of a drug overdose in March. Beekman wore No. 26 for the Cougars last season.

“This whole game was for Bryce,” Harris said after the game. “We miss him, we love him. Shoutout to his whole family. You see me throw that 26, it’s for my boy Bryce. Rest in peace to Bryce Beekman.”

Heading into the season, Rolovich had fashioned his own tribute to Beekman and his family by barring any player from adopting the No. 26 jersey this year.

Another of Harris’ gestures Saturday might have been misinterpreted. During his breakaway 44-yard touchdown run with 2 1/2 minutes remaining, he slowed up at the 15-yard line and looked toward the Cougar sideline before proceeding to score at a trot.

Rolovich said coaches had talked extensively before the game about late-game clock management, and Harris was checking to see if he had the green light to score.

“I hope nobody thought he was showboating,” Rolovich said. “He was trying to do the right thing for this football team to win the game.”

SPECIAL TEAM AWARENESS — Seeing all the special teams blunders in September as many college football teams began a pandemic-delayed season, the Cougars placed an emphasis on being efficient in those areas. They were successful.

Wazzu’s special-teams highlight came in the third quarter when a diving Dillon Sherman got a hand on a punt by Caleb Lightbourn. The kick went only 18 yards to the Oregon State 38, leading to a Harris touchdown catch to push the WSU lead to 28-7.

In a video news conference Wednesday, Rolovich handed credit to special teams coach Michael Ghobrial for “making learning fun for these guys. I think there’s a want-to-be on special teams. I also commend him for his teaching of the rule book. I think there’s a nice awareness on our team, but especially all the oddball ones that can happen on special teams — balls blocked over the line of scrimmage, balls blocked behind the line of scrimmage. I think you could see the reaction and the training after Sherm got his hand on that ball.”

SELF-GENERATED ENERGY — Cougars edge rusher Brennan Jackson said players adjusted smoothly to the absence of spectators at OSU. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, all Pac-12 games this season are being played in empty stadiums.

“It’s just you and your brothers playing the game you love,” he said. “Back in Pop Warner, you don’t play in front of 35,000 fans. You played in front of your parents, who were definitely watching the game. But you play for love of the game. All the energy just comes internally between the team. It’s not a roaring crowd. We love our Coug fans, but just seeing the sideline get excited and see your boys get hyped when you make a play — there’s no way to describe it.”

A sophomore from Temecula, Calif., Jackson made his starting debut and finished with seven tackles and half a sack.

Dale Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.

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