WSU’s quarterback battle heats up

Sophomore Jayden de Laura, grad transfer Jarrett Guarantano battling it out for starting job



Redshirt junior quarterback Cammon Cooper takes snaps during an Aug. 16 practice at Rogers Field.

MATT HOLM, Evergreen reporter

When summer training camp started, Cougars’ head coach Nick Rolovich told the media the quarterback competition between Jayden de Laura and Jarrett Guarantano had narrowed significantly.

Now, 17 days later, who gets the call to start the season opener against Utah State is anybody’s guess, and the confusion is absolutely warranted. 

Cammon Cooper also emerged as a possible starting candidate early on, but his inconsistent camp performance could be crowding him out as a candidate. Offensive coordinator Brian Smith said the competition would likely be trimmed to just two following Saturday’s scrimmage, and de Laura and Guarantano both seem to have outperformed him this month.

The name “Jarrett Guarantano” is much reviled in the southeastern football landscape. The Tennessee Volunteers struggled mightily with Guarantano at the helm in the first half of 2019, to the point Vols’ head coach Jeremy Pruitt benched him in ignominious fashion and Volunteer fans allegedly sent him death threats

Guarantano rebounded after his backup was injured but struggled again in 2020, ultimately leading to him deciding to play football elsewhere in 2021. 

Now that he has found himself in the Palouse, calling signals behind one of the better offensive lines in the nation, Guarantano has been able to display more of the pocket presence and patience with time in the pocket that wasn’t afforded to him in the defense-heavy SEC.

From a mechanical standpoint, Guarantano’s throwing motion is a thing of beauty. He is light on his feet, his release is quick and his follow-through looks like that of a professional quarterback. It is a bit of a wonder that he sometimes struggles with accuracy, but he has shown a propensity to throw the odd head-scratcher.

Should he win the starting job, however, he has demonstrated great ability to locate passes in places that give his receivers great leverage over their defenders. Joey Hobert picked up multiple first downs in the Cougs’ Saturday scrimmage primarily because of Guarantano’s accurate reads.

As far as we know, de Laura hasn’t garnered death threats the way Guarantano did in his time at Tennessee. But the sophomore has dealt with adversity of his own, having been arrested on DUI charges in February and later found not guilty.

De Laura has long been on Rolovich’s radar as a quarterback prospect. He went to high school in Honolulu, just minutes away from Rolovich, who was coaching the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at the time. Rolovich reportedly offered him a scholarship as early as his sophomore year in high school.

De Laura’s mechanics are not as silky as Guarantano’s, and he can often look more like a baseball pitcher in the pocket as he releases, but it does not seem to hinder his accuracy. In fact, de Laura has spent much of camp posting better completion percentages, flashier highlights and squeezing multiple deep passes into small windows.

Where de Laura lacks in comparison to Guarantano seems to be in the finer details. He seems unable to move the offense much in the short passing game at times and can occasionally lead his receivers into danger.

Additionally, he seems to be more turnover-prone than Guarantano. While Guarantano threw a lot of interceptions in his time as a Volunteer, many of them can be at least partially attributed to the personnel around him collapsing or blowing assignments. 

De Laura’s turnover propensity, by contrast, is a function of his daring play with the ball in his hands. The plays he makes are often more spectacular than the plays Guarantano makes. Those plays also are often more dangerous.

All of this leads to one very frustrating conclusion: the question of whether to start de Laura or Guarantano is one of philosophy more than simple analysis. Rolovich says the starting job is likely to go to the one with better leadership and command of the offense. However, that is not quantifiable by outside eyes, and even that can sometimes be a matter of opinion. 

Guarantano is likely the safer option, and his soft skills would probably raise the Cougs’ offensive floor. However, he may not have the explosive talent to take center stage against a team like USC or Oregon. De Laura’s history of recklessness with the ball could cost the Cougars a winnable game or two. But his speed, arm talent and willingness to take a shot could trigger an upset or two.

It appears Rolovich is spot-on in his analysis. The battle between these two is too close to be determined by anything that can be seen from the stands.