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Sports >  WSU football

Washington State mailbag: On Jayden de Laura, Mike Leach-to-Florida State speculation, Beau Baldwin’s woes at Cal and Cougs’ missing linebackers

Nov. 6, 2019 Updated Wed., Nov. 6, 2019 at 7:46 p.m.

PULLMAN – Eight games down, four more to go. Anyone feeling uneasy yet?

Washington State is favored to win this Saturday at Cal – and by 7 1/2 points no less – and I’d imagine if this one goes as planned for the Cougars, they’ll be favored in their next two, at home against Stanford, at home against Oregon State. Win at least one of those and WSU goes bowling for the fifth straight season.

But, knowing these Cougs, they may just prefer to keep things interesting and take five wins into the Apple Cup. We’ll have another month to float out all the different scenarios.

For now, let’s get to the mailbag.

Any insights on why Jayden de Laura was so quick to commit to WSU? Also looking for reason to believe he would keep that commitment now that big names are coming after him.

– Maria R.

A few things on this…

First off, the Cougars were the first Power Five program to offer de Laura – San Diego State, Hawaii, BYU and Western Kentucky being the other FBS schools to extend a scholarship offer before USC and Ohio State came in within the last week. Georgia’s shown interest in the QB, and supposedly flew out to the Islands to pay a visit the same week he committed to the Cougars, but the Bulldogs still haven’t pulled the trigger.

But the idea of playing in an offense that offers him so much freedom seemed to pique de Laura’s interest, as it has for just about every quarterback who’s played here since 2012.

Here’s what he told me via direct message (his cell phone was broken) about a month ago: “It just felt like the right fit for me because of what they been doing year after year. The way they produced and groomed their quarterbacks really caught my eye. I decided to commit so quickly because I knew that Washington State was where I wanted to be for quite awhile now.”

I also asked de Laura if he planned to close down his recruitment, to which the QB responded, “I am 100% committed to Washington State University.”

Now, let’s not be naive. The Trojans and the Buckeyes hadn’t discovered de Laura – or offered him – at that point, so I’m unsure to what extent he’s considering either of those schools. USC runs the Air Raid, of course, but the coaching situation there seems awfully shaky and most anticipate Clay Helton won’t be coaching the Trojans by the end of the year.

Ohio State is a perennial Big Ten power, but Pullman is obviously much closer to Honolulu than Columbus, and proximity to home is often an important factor for Hawaiian athletes who hold strong family values.

But, now that a few other Power Fives have caught on, I’m confident others will start to pursue de Laura and his offer sheet will continue to grow.

Without referencing de Laura specifically (coaches aren’t able to talk about prospective players), I asked Leach indirectly about other schools targeting players the Cougars identify before anyone else.

“Yeah, they think we know what we’re doing, I guess. Yeah, that’s happened some,” Leach said. “If you don’t offer a guy you’re not going to get him. But if you do offer a guy you’ll end up with a ton of competition.”

Where does all of it leave WSU with de Laura? Well, the Cougars were there first – at least among Power Fives – they use a QB-friendly system, they have coaching stability, they’re on the West Coast and the starting job will be open next fall. At least one, and probably a few of those things, hold significance for de Laura.

My question is with the firing of the FSU coach, any chance that Mike Leach sniffs around for that job? Not sure what his buyout would be for FSU to poach him from Wazzu or if you think he might be interested?

– Aaron H.

There may be some sniffing from both sides, but I’m not sure it’ll go far beyond that.

From Florida State’s perspective, I’d imagine Leach has too much “baggage” to be an ideal fit for the job in Tallahassee and I’m not sure the Seminoles’ administration or boosters would offer him the same autonomy and freedom he’s had at places like WSU and Texas Tech.

How would a bigger program like FSU tolerate some of the controversial remarks Leach makes in press conferences? How would they handle their head coach sharing a doctored Barack Obama speech from his Twitter account? Would they support the coach if he decided to enact a social media ban for his players?

From Leach’s perspective, the move would make sense for a few reasons – one of those obviously being the proximity to his summer home in Key West. He’s also had some success recruiting Florida and anyone can imagine how his Air Raid offense might take off with the caliber of athletes he’d have access to in the Sunshine State.

On the flip side, any coach considering the job at FSU should also consider the expectations that come with it – expectations that might be unrealistic depending on who you ask. The Seminoles never showed signs they were moving forward under Willie Taggart, but they also seemed to expect results immediately. Leach lost 11 games his first two seasons in Lubbock and 25 his first three seasons in Pullman. Seven-win seasons simply aren’t adequate in Tallahassee and whoever takes the job won’t exactly be inheriting a good situation. How long will the leash be?

So, I think there’s a better fit for FSU than Leach and I think there’s a better fit for Leach than FSU – if he has any desire to leave Pullman in the first place.

You’ve probably been asked this before, but with the news of Jamire Calvin being redshirted, any update regarding Dominick Silvels and/or Dillon Sherman? They’ve been absent for the season.

– Duclos

I addressed the Dominick Silvels situation on Monday. Well, somewhat, because we still know very little about what’s going on.

For anyone who hasn’t been following, Silvels hasn’t played this season and after the Northern Colorado game, Leach told me he was out for “personal reasons” without disclosing what those were. No surprise there.

Since then, I’ve asked for an update on three separate occasions. Here were Leach’s responses:

On Sept. 25: “I ought to check on that, but yeah he’s still working through it.”

On Oct. 16: “I’m kind of curious why I don’t have an update. That’s befuddling to me.”

And Monday: “You always remind me and I need to follow up on that.”

I won’t speculateon what’s going on, though based on those responses, it doesn’t seem as though there’s been much urgency on Leach’s end to find answers either. Or, he’s just not at liberty to speak about it.

Nonetheless, I don’t have any reason to think we’ll see Silvels on the field this season, which is unfortunate because the Cougars could certainly use more depth at the middle linebacker position. Hank Pladson became the primary backup when Travion Brown was ejected at Oregon and had to fill in when Justus Rogers left the game briefly.

Silvels played in both 2017 and ’18, so he is eligible for a redshirt and I’d imagine he’d have two more years remaining assuming he’s back with the Cougars next season.

As for Sherman, I don’t suspect he’ll be playing in the immediate future, although we’re not clued in on injuries, so I don’t have any specific details on him either. Unless the Cougars were able to document an injury from his first season on campus, Sherman won’t be able to use a redshirt, meaning he’ll have just one year remining.

It seems the Cal offense has been occasionally decent but mostly pretty bad since Wilcox was hired. What, if anything, do you hear about Beau Baldwin? He has got to be feeling some heat as a struggling head coach will sometimes have to axe a coordinator to give himself some breathing room.

– Steve K.

In the three years since Wilcox was hired, the Golden Bears have played 33 games and have hit the 30-point marker just eight times. After scoring 27.8 points per game in 2017, Cal regressed to 21.5 ppg in 2018 and 17.4 ppg through eight games this season.

For reasons that seem to be fairly wide-ranging, Baldwin simply hasn’t been able to work the same magic he did at Eastern Washington, when the Eagles regularly had the most potent offense at the FCS level and turned no-star recruits like Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne into NFL-caliber players.

It’s mystifying that Baldwin, with a much larger pool of players to recruit from, hasn’t been able to recreate the same success in the Pac-12 Conference. The Bears haven’t placed an offensive player on the postseason all-conference during his time in Berkeley and that won’t change this season.

And it isn’t like Cal, the school responsible for Aaron Rodgers, Keenan Allen, Desean Jackson, Marshawn Lynch and Jared Goff, hasn’t been able to attract talent.

If Jonathan Smith is able to pull players such as Isaiah Hodgins and Jermar Jefferson while recruiting from rural Oregon, there’s no reason Baldwin can’t lure good skill players to the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area. He did more with less – OK, way less – in Cheney.

Albeit, the Golden Bears have stumbled into some rotten luck this season and were 4-0 when quarterback Chase Garbers left the first half of a game against Arizona State with a shoulder injury. Cal might have won that one had Garbers finished it out and the Bears would’ve had opportunites to beat both Oregon and Oregon State – games they lost by a combined 10 points – with better play behind center.

I’ve also spent some time this week pondering this question: did Baldwin and Cal do their due diligence with Gage Gubrud when the QB was browsing through his transfer options? Considering the Bears’ depth and talent issues at the position, it would’ve made sense to pursue an experienced grad transfer who, oh yeah, also happens to have quite a bit of knowledge of Baldwin’s offense. Perhaps the Bears gave it some thought, but Cal never seemed to be one of the schools on Gubrud’s shortlist.

So, back to your question. If Cal fails to reach a bowl game, I could envision Wilcox making a staff change. Or, he realizes the Bears have had a few bad breaks this season – mainly Garbers’ bum shoulder – and gives Baldwin another year to right the offensive ship.

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