The Nick Rolovich era got off to the flying start everyone hoped for as the Washington State Cougars opened up their 2020 season by holding on for a 38-28 win over the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis.
Travell Harris had 156 total yards and three total touchdowns while Deon McIntosh ran for 147 yards and a TD, as the Cougars ran all over the Beavers to the tune of 229 yards — two more yards than they threw for behind the arm of true freshman Jayden de Laura. It truly is a new era.
All eyes, of course, were on de Laura, and he was beyond impressive in his first college game: He completed 18-of-33 passes for 227 yards while adding 43 yards on the ground for three total touchdowns and one interception.
There was much anticipation about what de Laura would do as the first true freshman to ever start a season opener at WSU (at least, in the modern era, for sure), and with only a few hiccups, he was everything anyone could have hoped he would be. He was in command of the offense throughout and made only a few questionable decisions, and he got better as the game went along.
Perhaps equally surprising was the play of the defense, which held the Beavers and their new starting quarterback — Tristan Gebbia, a former four-star recruit who transferred from Nebraska — down for most of the game. The final yardage total won’t impress anyone, giving up 451, but the Beavers only gained a fairly modest 5.6 yards per play and the D was good enough for the offense to play from ahead for most of the game. They also tallied four sacks after averaging less than two sacks a game in conference play last season.
The game was tight in the first half, with WSU holding just a 14-7 lead at the break, but the Cougs would remove (most of) the doubt about the final outcome of this one by early in the fourth quarter.
Oregon State sputtered on its first drive and WSU smelled blood, the Cougs would go for the throat in the most unusual way. McIntosh started the drive with a 10-yard gain, then after a de Laura incompletion, McIntosh ripped off a 49-yard gain that ended with him stepping out at the 5-yard-line. De Laura then showed off the advantage of having a quarterback who can run, pulling the ball out of McIntosh’s stomach on the next play and then following him over the goal line for a 21-7 lead.
The defense forced another three-and-out — one of five of them on the night — and then special teams came up huge, getting a piece of the punt and starting the Cougars at Oregon State’s 38. Three plays later, de Laura found Renard Bell for a gorgeous toe-tapping TD in the corner of the end zone.
But ... there was a lineman down field.
No matter — we’ll just throw it to Harris again (he already had one deep TD in the first half) on the other side for a 28-7 lead.
And in case it wasn’t clear:
It was at this point that OSU’s offense finally found some rhythm. Gebbia hit a quartet of 10-plus-yard passing plays before Jermar Jefferson punched it in from the 1 to narrow the gap to 28-14.
Just a few minutes later, it appeared that WSU would be able to breathe and ride out the game — despite being unable to get it into the end zone after having first and goal, Blake Mazza split the uprights to give the Cougs a three-score margin once again at 31-14 with just 12 minutes to go.
But nothing is ever easy for the Cougs, especially when the defense is involved. The Beavers needed just 3:21 for Jefferson to scamper across the goal line once again, although a missed two-pointer (your guess is as good as mine) left it at 31-20.
Despite starting out with a 23-yard pitch and catch from de Laura to Jamire Calvin (welcome back!), the Cougs couldn’t quite put it away on that drive, fizzling out at midfield and punting.
Less than three minutes later, OSU was in the end zone again as Gebbia picked the defense apart — and the pass rush more or less disappeared. Suddenly, a three-score game that felt very comfortable was just a three-point margin with 2:38 remaining.
Coug fans everywhere about had a heart attack on the kickoff, as the Beavers went for the on-side kick. It was rolling slowly in much the same manner as the famous Dallas Cowboys kick against the Atlanta Falcons earlier this year, except this time, the WSU hands team wisely tried to cover it up quickly. Only ... the ball squirted away from No. 17 (there is no No. 17 on the roster, so I have no clue who it was) before bouncing around and being recovered by Lucas Bacon. Whew.
On the very first play of the drive, Harris removed all doubt — and probably will make an appearance on Bad Beats to boot.
Under bettors just needed Wazzu to run out the clock...— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) November 8, 2020
Travell Harris for the 44-yard TD to cash the over 64 ✅pic.twitter.com/aH5EE1gkRs
Down by 10, the Beavers needed a quick score. But the Cougars made them earn their yards, and coach Jonathan Smith eventually sent the field goal unit out from WSU’s 29 with about 30 seconds left to try and conserve some clock for the TD if they could get the on-side kick.
He missed. Ballgame.
One interesting aspect of the game was that the de Laura era got off to an inauspicious start, as he threw and incomplete pass on his first play, then the Cougs went three and out on thanks largely to a dead ball personal foul on Liam Ryan that essentially killed the drive. On the ensuing drive, he misfired on his next two throws, looking a bit nervous and more than a little amped up.
But then he scrambled for 16 yards — a weapon we haven’t seen at WSU in years — and that seemed to settle him in. That drive would also end in a punt, but he hit a couple of completions that portended good things to come.
Meanwhile, the defense also was doing things we haven’t seen in a while — namely, forcing three-and-outs.
That was enough to give the offense the opening it needed. De Laura jump started the drive with a 12-yard completion to Renard Bell, following that up with a pair of short completions and a short run mixed. Then, from the OSU 34, the Run and Shoot finally took off:
The defense held again, and then a bad snap on the punt nearly landed them the ball deeeeep in OSU territory. The punter somehow got it off, but the Cougs got into plus field position.
That’s when de Laura made one of his few mistakes of the night, getting greedy with a throw into the end zone against double coverage, resulting in the first interception of his career.
After trading punts, Oregon State finally showed a little bit of life. Jermar Jefferson — who terrorized the Cougs so thoroughly last season — rumbled six times for 41 yards as Gebbia dinked and dunked his way around the field before finally finding Trevon Bradford crossing in the end zone from WSU’s 7-yard-line. Game tied at 7.
WSU answered right back with a mix of de Laura passes and McIntosh runs to move all the way down to the OSU 3. On first down, de Laura checked to a slant by Renard Bell, which resulted in an easy pitch and catch for the TD. Except ... well, refs had to get involved, and they somehow overturned it on the bobble, even though no replays showed the ball hitting the ground.
No matter — McIntosh had his back again, running it in from the 3, and the Cougs would carry a 14-7 lead into the locker room.