On a day when footballs hit the ground too often for his liking, via bad snaps and dropped passes, Washington State coach Nick Rolovich left the indoor practice bubble with more concerns than closure about his offense less than three weeks ahead of the home opener against Utah State.
The team’s first preseason scrimmage was held inside and closed to media members, so it’s unclear exactly how many times WSU’s centers failed to snap cleanly into the quarterback’s hands, or how many times a well-thrown football skidded off the gloves of a receiver, but Rolovich was generally displeased with the offensive execution in the first game-like setting preseason camp and suggested there was plenty of room to improve before Sept. 4.
“Well I don’t think there’s a question the defense won the day,” said Rolovich, who took precautionary measures with many of WSU’s best players and held a handful of starters out of Saturday’s scrimmage. “A lot of self-inflicted wounds offensively that probably compounded the feeling walking off the field. A bunch of dropped balls. One bad snap is one too many and we had more than that, which really disturbs the flow of the overall cleanliness of a football team. So that needs to be fixed.”
Erratic play from WSU’s centers and receivers aside, the Cougars still had an opportunity to inch closer to naming a starting quarterback, or at least narrow down a three-man battle to two players entering the second full week of preseason camp.
But there still isn’t much clarity on that front, either. Redshirt junior Cammon Cooper appeared to have the best statistical day of the three contenders, completing 6 of 7 passes for 110 yards, two touchdown passes to Donovan Ollie and no interceptions, but returning starter Jayden de Laura was an efficient 5 of 7, throwing for 38 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The statistics pointed to an inconsistent day from graduate transfer Jarrett Guarantano, who was 4 of 10 for 15 yards and no touchdowns, but Rolovich suggested his stat line may have been impacted by receiver drops.
“What was disappointing was lack of general for the offense when things starting going downhill,” Rolovich said. “… You look at Liam (Ryan) and Abe (Lucas), we pulled them early in practice. Those are guys that usually don’t let that happen, so when those guys aren’t in the game or aren’t in the series, somebody else needs to take that role on and you would like it to come from the quarterback position.”
Rolovich had indicated he’d like to narrow the competition to two QBs by next week, but doing so may prove more challenging than the second-year coach thought. Cooper, de Laura and Guarantano have each auditioned well on given days, but it’s been common for a strong day to be followed by a mediocre one, or vice versa, and Rolovich still isn’t seeing the day-to-day consistency he’d like from a starting QB.
“I’m not sure we can wait a whole lot longer before we start whittling it down,” he said. “Somebody’s got to take this job and that’s the bottom line.”
Added Rolovich: “There’s days you’re like, there’s Jarrett, he’s got it. Oh wait no, there’s Cam, he does. Oh wait, here comes Jayden. So, this is about consistency and leading this group and what I think we’ve struggled with a little bit is a little bit worrying about what the other guy is doing, what play the other guy is getting. We need to worry about the play we have and good or bad, let it go, then we go to the next play.”
By all accounts, the offensive highlight of the day came on a 70-yard touchdown connection from Cooper to Ollie, who was running a post pattern until he noticed the defense playing a cover two scheme and changed his route, streaking down the sideline until he reeled in Cooper’s high-arcing pass and crossed the goal line.
“We always work that play, we work that play against that coverage in practice a lot,” Ollie said. “So it was expected.”
Defensively, the Cougars didn’t manage to produce a turnover in Saturday’s scrimmage, but Jake Dickert’s unit provided resistance from start to finish and found its way into the backfield for six total sacks. TCU transfer linebacker Ben Wilson responsible for two of those, while Lawrence Falatea, Sam Carrell, Travion Brown and Nicholas Sheetz each had one apiece.
“Our front showed up and that’s a very positive thing,” Dickert said. “It’s something we’ve been waiting on, we can see these guys that are constantly developing. Some of our young guys showed up. … First day tackling, there was some challenges with that, but excited about what we did today.”
Names that were noticeably absent from the stat sheet sent out by WSU’s sports information department included running backs Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh, along with receiver Travell Harris, who’s been rehabbing from a minor injury the first week of preseason camp. Linebacker Jahad Woods, who was injured in practice earlier this week, was also held out of the scrimmage.