PULLMAN — In Washington State’s quarterback race, Jayden de Laura and Jarrett Guarantano are neck and neck.
Coach Nick Rolovich revealed Tuesday that the Cougars’ competition at signal caller has been narrowed down to those two options less than two weeks ahead of WSU’s season opener Sept. 4 against Utah State.
“They’re staying on each other’s heels,” Rolovich said after practice at Rogers Field.
De Laura, a sophomore and Wazzu’s returning starter, will be challenged for the nod over the next 12 days by an experienced graduate transfer in Guarantano, who started 32 games across four seasons at the University of Tennessee.
Big-armed junior lefty Cammon Cooper had been in the mix since spring camp.
But it seemed as though de Laura and Guarantano began to separate midway through last week’s slate of fall camp sessions. Both passers have put up efficient numbers, and they’ve been timely on short and intermediate throws — a key element of Rolovich’s run-and-shoot offense. Dual-threat athleticism has been a plus for the two, too.
Rolovich detailed the quarterbacking qualities that influenced his decision.
“I think the consistency that Jarrett showed. In grading, he was pretty steady the whole time,” Rolovich said. “Then Jayden can make some fantastic plays. … If we can do all high-level plays, we’ll be better.”
The second-year boss hasn’t settled on a time table for when he’d like to have his starter established. Though he doesn’t expect to platoon quarterbacks in a game, Rolovich thinks the battle for reps might “continue for a long time.” So far, he noted, it’s been a dead heat between de Laura and Guarantano.
“Just because you take the first snap doesn’t mean you take the second snap. … We all have to have that mindset,” he said. “For whatever reason, we gotta stay ready and prepare (both of them) like a starter.”
The Cougars held a scrimmage Saturday that focused heavily on game situations. In it, Guarantano passed approximately 8 of 15 for 99 yards while de Laura went 8 of 9 for 30 yards — the Cougs worked primarily on short-range passes.
Cooper, who began to fade from the competition late last week, completed just 3 of 7 attempts for five yards and was nearly intercepted twice.
“I think they both performed well with pressure, leading people in the scrimmage,” Rolovich said of de Laura and Guarantano.
The coach added of Cooper: “Camm did a lot of great things. Camm still helped us win and he’s still a big part of this, still getting reps. … But right now we’re down to focusing on Jarrett and Jayden.”
De Laura started all four games for the Cougs in 2020 with mixed results. He passed for 886 yards and five touchdowns against four interceptions on a 60.5% completion rate, adding a pair of scores on the ground.
The versatile 6-foot, 190-pounder guided a run-and-shoot offense to considerable success during his prep days at Saint Louis in Honolulu. Rolovich said de Laura appears comfortable in the system, which emphasizes a quarterback’s ability to adapt on the fly and adjust plays to fit whatever coverages opposing defenses trot out.
“Mentally, I think he sees it,” Rolovich said. “Even last year, it was real natural for him.”
Guarantano accumulated 6,174 yards and 38 touchdowns through the air at Tennessee, completing 61.1% of his passes. He tossed 17 picks.
The 6-4, 230-pound New Jersey native lost his starting spot with the Volunteers midway through the 2020 season and entered the transfer portal on Dec. 19. Guarantano committed to WSU in January.
“He’s really worked on it,” Rolovich said of Guarantano’s run-and-shoot savvy. “I think he’s enjoyed it because it’s different than some of the things he’s done in the past. He’s really committed to it.”
Rolovich was asked to detail the characteristics of a prototypical run-and-shoot quarterback, and what traits he’s looking for in his starter.
“Quick release, accuracy, quick decisions, good manipulation of the pocket,” he said. “Then obviously leadership and who’s going to inspire people to dig deeper, and be something bigger than maybe they even thought they could.
“Arm strength is way down the list for us. We gotta be accurate, we gotta get the ball out and you gotta run the offense.”
Sophomore walk-on Victor Gabalis took a significant number of snaps with the first-team offense in 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills. Rolovich had indicated last week that Gabalis was a dark horse candidate.
“I think we’ve got four quarterbacks that can win in this offense,” he said.