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Watson provides spark to Cougar rushing attack

by IAN BIVONA
Sports Reporter | November 15, 2022 2:44 PM

PULLMAN – After exiting Washington State’s Oct. 8 matchup against USC with an injury, redshirt junior running back Nakia Watson has returned to give the Cougar run game a spark, resulting in the best two-game stretch of Watson’s collegiate career.

“I’m really proud of that kid, I really have (been),” WSU Head Coach Jake Dickert said at a press conference Monday. “All the way remembering back to Wisconsin and how hard he played there, to getting some tough yards. To going through an injury, to battle back, to push through.”

Watson, who transferred to Pullman from Wisconsin in 2021, rushed for 166 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against Stanford two weeks ago and 116 yards and three scores on 20 carries against Arizona State last week, a career-high for carries and touchdowns.

“This is definitely one of the best parts of my career, having those games,” Watson said at a press conference on Tuesday. “It feels good knowing that everything is coming together, and it feels like my time has come.”

The Cougar offense struggled to move the ball during his two-game absence, rushing for only 65 yards combined against Oregon State and Utah. On Saturday against the Sun Devils, Watson showcased his ability to put his foot down and power through tackles on his short scoring runs of two, five and two yards.

“Even that fourth-and-two on the goal line – there’s an unblocked hitter coming right at him,” Dickert said. “(Watson) ran him right over to finish. Those are the tough yards that we’re talking about, and it’s not always easy, it’s not always flashy. It’s just a choice. I think he brought that back to our offense, which was much needed.”

Dickert complimented Watson's "confidence" when the ball is in his hands.

“The confidence when he has the ball and how he’s changed the look of what we wanted to do has been really impressive,” Dickert said. “And it’s not always easy.”

After Saturday’s win, Dickert said at a press conference that Watson was playing at about “75%” health-wise, and the redshirt junior said that the recovery process has gone well.

“The injury’s going well,” Watson said. “I’ve rehabbed for it every day, try to maintain and keep it right so I can finish out the season strong.”

Finishing the season strong will be key for the Cougars to win eight games for the first time since 2018. Both of WSU’s upcoming opponents, Arizona and Washington, rank in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in terms of rushing yards allowed per game. The Wildcats give up 218.8 rushing yards per game and the Huskies have allowed 137 rushing yards per game this season.

“We go in with the same mentality every week, whether it’s a good team or whoever it is, we go with the same mindset,” Watson said. “We come in with a chip on our shoulder, we play to the best of our ability.”

Even with back-to-back strong performances, Dickert said that there is still room to improve with the totality of the run game, specifically noting a late-game situation when attempting to put the game away on a fourth down at the ASU 43-yard line.

“At the end of the game, we’ve got two downs to get one yard,” Dickert said. “I love that we didn’t do anything fancy, but we’ve got to be able to move people, and move the ball and get that hard and be tough. Toughness is a choice, we talk about that a lot in this room.”

The Cougs kickoff against Arizona at 11 a.m. in Tucson.

Ian Bivona may be reached at ibivona@columbiabasinherald.com.

photo

AP Photo/Young Kwak

Since returning from an injury suffered against USC, Cougar running back Nakia Watson (25) has helped provide a spark to the formerly struggling WSU run game.

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