Another season, another quarterback battle on the Washington State football team.
Not since Luke Falk returned for his senior season in 2017 has Washington State been set at the starting QB position before fall camp started.
There were quarterback battles in coach Mike Leach’s final two seasons, with Gardner Minshew emerging in 2018 and Anthony Gordon in 2019.
Last season, in coach Nick Rolovich’s first year, true freshman Jayden de Laura emerged from a three-man battle.
Now, with the regular season looming, de Laura is battling with graduate transfer Jarrett Guarantano, after those two emerged from a four-man battle. Rolovich has said the battle has been essentially a dead heat, and that he has confidence in both to lead the offense.
“I don’t know that we will announce something through the week,” Rolovich said Monday, five days before the season opener at home against Utah State. “I want to make sure we talk to the guys first before we put it out there. Some strong development by both guys. I think we are playing better football, which is good, but it makes it a little harder (to decide). I think we will feel good with whatever decision we make.”
Rolovich said playing both de Laura and Guarantano in the opener was something that has been discussed, “but I think we will lean against that at this point unless we are struggling and need a jump start.”
Rolovich also said Monday he hoped to decide on who the starting quarterback will be “in the next few days,” even if it is not announced publicly.
“I don’t want to go into Friday night with them not knowing and us not knowing,” he said.
Rolovich said he thinks it is a positive that de Laura and Guarantano have both stepped up, making it a tough decision. Not that Rolovich wants to go through this every year.
“Ideally, you would have a returning starter coming back,” Rolovich said early in fall camp.
Make that an established returning starter. De Laura was up-and-down in leading the Cougars to a 1-3 season last year, then was suspended for spring practices after being arrested on suspicion of DUI (he has since been acquitted).
So Rolovich made it an open competition in fall camp, with de Laura, Guarantano, redshirt junior Cammon Cooper and Victor Gabalis the four early contenders. Two weeks ago, it was pared to de Laura and Guarantano.
Who would you pick?
Who will Rolovich pick?
Guarantano’s big stat is 32. That is the number of games he started at quarterback during his five years at Tennessee. His experience has showed at camp.
“I think the consistency that Jarrett showed — in grading, he was pretty steady the whole time,” Rolovich told reporters last week.
De Laura, of course, is more known to WSU fans, having started all four games last season. He showed the ability to make things happen, often when things broke down, but also made some true freshman mistakes.
“Jayden can make some fantastic plays. … If we can do all high-level plays, we’ll be better,” Rolovich said last week.
Both contenders have something to prove.
Guarantano was benched last season as Tennessee struggled. He threw for 6,174 yards and 38 touchdowns in his career with the Volunteers, but Tennessee was 20-27 the last four years. That did not satisfy fans of a storied program like Tennessee, and Guarantano even received death threats from some disturbed fans.
“Obviously, there was some good and bad on the field, but it’s what God intended and I am perfectly fine with my past and I think it’s definitely helped with my future,” Guarantano said.
De Laura was not satisfied with his performance (grading it a C or C-minus) or Washington State’s 1-3 record last season.
“I feel like I’ve matured quickly, and my decision-making, on the field and off the field, is way better,” he said.
The battle has waged on for weeks, but decision time looms.
At least for the opener, even though Rolovich said there is no plan to play one quarterback one week and the other the next.
“Just because you take the first snap doesn’t mean you take the second snap,” Rolovich told reporters last week. “We all have to have that mindset.”