PULLMAN – Washington State coach Nick Rolovich figures he’ll probably stick with Jayden de Laura.
The sophomore quarterback was called on to relieve injured starter Jarrett Guarantano early in the second quarter of the Cougars’ opener Saturday at Gesa Field, and although de Laura didn’t lead WSU to victory over Utah State, Rolovich was nonetheless impressed with his relief outing.
It’s also uncertain whether Guarantano will even be available when the Cougars play host to Portland State on Saturday.
“I think I’d lean toward Jayden right now with all things considered,” Rolovich said in a news conference Monday when asked who he was planning to start.
“Without knowing exactly what’s going on with Jarrett, I’d anticipate going with Jayden.”
The second-year WSU boss said he’s unsure of the severity of Guarantano’s injury, sustained when the grad transfer was driven into the turf on a sack during his fourth series of the Cougars’ eventual 26-23 loss to the Aggies.
The injury doesn’t appear to be season-ending, Rolovich noted. He said he’d have more clarity Monday evening, after Guarantano’s physical exam.
But Rolovich hinted he might trot out de Laura regardless of whether Guarantano is healthy enough to play.
“I know we lost and he could have done some better things, but he definitely brings some energy,” Rolovich said of de Laura, who started each of WSU’s four games last season. “I thought he was mature in his decisions, in his presence.”
De Laura provided a spark with his mobility and got WSU’s previously shaky offense into a groove after halftime. In all, he guided the Cougs into the red zone three times on long, efficient drives.
“Jayden started scaring them with his legs,” Rolovich said of what flipped for WSU’s offense after an inconsistent first half.
De Laura completed 12 of 22 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown and consistently escaped crumbling pockets, rushing for 42 yards on seven attempts. The 6-foot, 195-pounder from Hawaii kept the Aggies’ pass coverage honest with a few deep shots, and connected on a handful of tough throws – including a 12-yard scoring strike through a small window to Donovan Ollie in the third quarter.
Rolovich commended de Laura for exhibiting poise and leadership despite entering the night as a second-stringer.
“I thought Jayden came in, to his credit, with maybe a more mature mindset,” Rolovich said. “I think he handled the decision when we told them very well. Obviously disappointed, but I gotta give the kid credit for how he’s handled it. I think he has matured.”
De Laura missed spring ball while serving a suspension for a DUI charge in February – he was later found not guilty. De Laura was set back without a spring camp, Rolovich indicated.
“And there were some things in camp that gave me a little pause,” Rolovich said without specifying.
“I didn’t give him enough credit until after the game, as far as how he has handled himself. I’m happy for him. I think that’s gonna help him throughout his life. It was a great sign for his teammates to see how he handled it.”
Guarantano, a 32-game starter over the past four years at Tennessee, got the nod late last week after winning a QB battle that raged throughout fall camp. Rolovich has pointed to his pocket presence and veteran football knowledge as distinguishing traits.
Guarantano was hit-and-miss in his four possessions Saturday. He relied on short throws and went 8 of 13 for 56 yards, adding 25 rushing yards on four carries.
His first two series fizzled out quickly before a 10-play, 57-yard drive, which ended with a field goal.“He got some things going with his legs,” Rolovich said. “Kinda that opportunistic (offense), I think he has a good feel for that. We didn’t move the ball terribly well. A couple of decisions he would probably take back, but I wouldn’t say he was awful.”
De Laura made a few youthful “ill-advised” throws, Rolovich said, and heaved a couple of dangerous prayers toward the end zone.
“But again, for what he’s been through, he proved to me … that he has improved from a maturity standpoint on decision-making,” Rolovich said. “He just has a lot of belief in what he can do. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, we just gotta control when we take those shots.”
While Guarantano mostly sat in the pocket, de Laura often looked to extend passing plays, slipping past defenders with hesitation moves and rolling outside.
“If he’s the guy we’re going to go with, we have to play to his strengths,” Rolovich said.
Overall, there’s much room for WSU to improve in its passing game. Rolovich thought the offense appeared jumbled early. The Cougs were affected by iffy offensive line play and Utah State’s pressure, and de Laura sometimes tried to force passes into tight coverage.
“I don’t think we threw the ball particularly well,” he said. “That’s not on the quarterback position entirely. Just the whole passing game was subpar. We need to get more out of the drop-back game.”
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