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Status of Washington State quarterback Jayden de Laura up in the air

Washington State Cougars quarterback Jayden de Laura (4) has his knee taped by a trainer during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, Sep 18, 2021, at Gesa Field in Pullman, Wash. USC won the game 45-14.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – Jayden de Laura’s availability for Saturday’s game at Utah probably won’t be determined until later this week.

The sophomore Washington State quarterback sustained an unspecified leg injury during the second quarter of the Cougars’ 45-14 loss to Southern Cal this past weekend. He was removed from the contest, then returned for a few rocky plays, but was pulled from the field again when WSU’s deficit became too great to overcome.

Now it’s uncertain whether he’s ready to start a game in five days.

“It’ll be close,” coach Nick Rolovich told local reporters Monday over a Zoom call. “It’s day-by-day right now.”

De Laura has been a relatively consistent bright spot for a Cougs offense that’s been mostly erratic through three games and, at its worst – like in the second half vs. USC – completely stagnant.

WSU (1-2, 0-1 Pac-12) could sure use its spark plug when it kicks off against the defensively sound Utes (1-2, 0-0) at 11:30 a.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

The tides quickly turned in USC’s favor when de Laura – the key to WSU’s early lead – emerged from the locker room after halftime with a brace on his left knee and a limp in his step.

Before then, the dynamic Hawaiian had guided the Cougs to a 14-0 advantage midway through the second quarter.

He had WSU moving steadily against USC’s defense, particularly on his first three possessions, which accounted for 192 of the team’s 279 total yards on the day.

De Laura exuded confidence in the first half and passed 10 of 16 for 117 yards and two touchdowns.

“I thought he was playing the best football that I’ve seen (since) I’ve been with him,” the second-year coach said. “I thought he was in great command. I think he’s very energizing to the team.”

Rolovich all but confirmed that the injury occurred on WSU’s final play of the second quarter, which seemed inconspicuous at the time.

The Cougs had the ball at their own 35-yard line with 32 seconds on the clock. De Laura evaded a pass rusher, scrambling out of a collapsing pocket and up the middle on a called passing play. He fell hard on his knees after being wrapped up on his right by a sprawling Trojan defensive tackle. Another defender came in late, landing on de Laura’s back. WSU let the remaining 25 seconds drain from the clock.

Rolovich said de Laura met with a team doctor and trainers at the break. The Cougars didn’t have a complete prognosis on de Laura’s condition when the half started, so they played it safe.

“I know Jayden wanted to come out and go,” Rolovich said. “He got retaped before the half started. It was Doc and him making a decision – not sure he could (play). We were prepared to go with Victor (Gabalis). We didn’t have the whole answer by the time we were getting ready to come back out of the locker room.”

WSU turned to Gabalis, a sophomore walk-on, and the Cougars’ offense idled. It didn’t gain a single yard in the third quarter while USC rolled up 28 points.

When asked of the game’s turning points, Rolovich first pointed to de Laura’s injury.

De Laura re-entered the game later in the third quarter and attempted to shift the momentum with a deep prayer down the far sideline. He was intercepted, and looked shaky a drive later, firing a couple of incompletions high before being removed for good.

If de Laura isn’t available, the Cougars have another big decision to make concerning their QB position.

Gabalis, grad transfer Jarrett Guarantano and junior Cammon Cooper are “all very close” for the backup role, Rolovich said. Gabalis went 6 of 10 for 19 yards and took two sacks vs. USC. Thrust into a moment he probably wasn’t fully prepared for, the Everett native couldn’t jump-start an offense that’d been sapped by the loss of its leader.

Cooper passed 4 of 5 for 44 yards on a garbage-time series, which ended with an interception.

Though Guarantano was suited up, he watched from the sideline. The Tennessee transfer had won the starting job in preseason camp, but suffered an injury early in the second quarter of WSU’s Week 1 loss to Utah State. He’s apparently somewhat on the mend still.

“(Guarantano) probably could have been used in an emergency, but he didn’t take practice reps that were really meaningful last week,” Rolovich said. “I anticipate him being even more ready to play this week.

“We’ll see how he practices. There were weeks we felt Victor was practicing really well. There were weeks where Camm was doing well. I think they’re all very close and all have a little bit of a different skill set, and things they’re comfortable with. … Victor’s got to be ready to go. Camm’s got to be ready to go, and we’ve got to see if Jarrett can go.”

WSU’s run-and-shoot offense requires its quarterbacks to make a decent number of pre-snap reads and adjust accordingly.De Laura appeared in-tune with the system, often shifting teammates and calling out defensive protections during WSU’s three methodical possessions.

Rolovich said de Laura has perhaps made his “biggest jump” from season to season in that aspect of his game.

“I thought he was directing traffic very well,” Rolovich said. “He was in control. He was commanding it. I think he’s done a really good job the majority of the year … That was a question mark after last year: Can he control it like that? And I think he’s proven us all right.”