Despite Nick Rolovich’s attempts to keep his quarterback starter under wraps in the run up to the season opener against the Oregon State Beavers, Theo Lawson of The Spokesman-Review is reporting that multiple sources have confirmed that true freshman Jayden de Laura has won the job for the Washington State Cougars.
It was a three-way battle to replace Anthony Gordon, and de Laura beat out redshirt sophomore Cammon Cooper and redshirt freshman Gunner Cruz to become the leader of Rolovich’s Run and Shoot in the new coach’s first season,
Because Rolovich isn’t talking, it’s impossible to know exactly why de Laura was the choice. However, de Laura did put up the best stats in the two scrimmages, particularly in terms of taking care of the football. He has more experience in the Run and Shoot than either Cooper or Cruz, having run a variation of the system in an immensely successful high school career, which could have given him a bit of an advantage in this quick start of a season.
De Laura also is the best runner of the three, which is a potential weapon for Rolovich in an offense that has a history of using the quarterback as a ball carrier from time to time, and at 6-foot/195 pounds, he’s got the physical makeup to do it. (For comparison, backup running back Deon McIntosh is 6-foot/190.)
Rolovich has indicated that all three are still getting plenty of practice reps — the starter getting about half the snaps, while the other two split the other half — and there’s reason to believe that de Laura probably won’t be the only quarterback to play this season. Rolovich has a history of being unafraid to rotate QBs when the situation calls, to say nothing of the threat of COVID over everyone.
De Laura is very likely the first true freshman to start an opener for WSU; Lawson notes that the school’s records are only complete back to the 1970s, and while no true freshman has started the opener since then, it can’t be said for sure whether he’s the first.
Regardless, it’s a highly unusual occurrence that befits this highly unusual season. One argument that’s been floated is that if all things were relatively equal between de Laura and his competitors, maybe it makes some sense to use this shortened schedule — in which nobody will be using a year of eligibility — to hand the job to a guy who can grow into the job, potentially for five years. However, I’m not sure how much water that holds, given that Cooper had the potential to be a four-year starter and Cruz also could be a five-year starter.
Given my preference for the simplest explanations, my guess is that Rolovich just felt de Laura gives the team the best chance to win right now. Whether that makes you feel good is a matter of perspective, I suppose.
The optimistic view is this: An incredibly talented player who was considered a four-star prospect by 247Sports beat out two other talented veterans with plenty of college practice reps under their belts, one of whom was a consensus four-star/Elite 11 prospect a few years ago. That’s exactly what you want your recruits to do, right? Pac-12 Network’s Yogi Roth is sold on de Laura’s potential:
The less optimistic view is that maybe Cooper just isn’t as good as we hoped. While he’s a former consensus four-star/Elite 11 prospect, it was pretty well known that Mike Leach was looking to bring in yet another grad transfer for this season before he jumped to Mississippi State — it’s very likely that KJ Costello would have landed in Pullman. So maybe beating out Cooper isn’t exactly the biggest accomplishment for de Laura.
For what it’s worth, I’ll take the optimistic view — I’m not sure Cooper was setting the world on fire, but anytime a true freshman can win a job, it’s impressive.
We did talk quite a bit about the quarterback battle on Podcast Vs. Everyone this week, and while we didn’t know who the starter would be, we dug deep into what de Laura would bring to the table. Give it a listen if you want to dive a little deeper.