Coug football kicks off against Beavs

WSU starts its 2020-21 football season against Oregon State on Nov. 7

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OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

The Cougars have defeated Oregon State in each of the past six seasons. This is head coach Nick Rolovich’s second time facing the Beavers as a coach.

CODY SCHOELER, Evergreen football reporter

A new head coach, new defensive coordinators, and a new starting quarterback, The first entry to the Cougars’ post-Mike Leach era starts in Corvallis against the Oregon State Beavers.

After a tumultuous offseason where a Pac-12 football season was uncertain and even postponed at one point, the eyes of all Cougar fans will be on true freshman and starting quarterback Jayden de Laura.

The first-year signal-caller from Hawai’i won the starting job last week after an impressive string of practices and scrimmages this fall.

De Laura will now lead the Cougars into a matchup with the Beavers that produced one of the best games of the Pac-12 season in 2019.

WSU beat OSU last season in a 54-53 nail-biter that was decided on a last-second touchdown from junior running back Max Borghi. That game featured 1,242 combined total yards, including over 600 passing yards and six touchdowns from Cougar quarterback Anthony Gordon.

The Beavers will also be led by a new starting quarterback in 2020 with redshirt junior Tristan Gebbia taking over for the graduated Jake Luton. Gebbia threw for 347 yards, two touchdowns and one interception throughout the entire 2019 season, including 243 yards in his lone start in the season finale against Oregon.

WSU head coach Nick Rolovich was able to beat the Beavers last year when he was at the University of Hawai’i. He also did so through the air, with quarterback Cole McDonald throwing for 421 yards and four touchdowns.

Rolovich said he looks for matchups and opportunities to attack the defense.

“We try to take what the defense gives us and kind of let the offense, kind of like an octopus, just get into whatever crevices they can get into,” Rolovich said.

The Cougars are also experiencing turnover in other key positions on the team.

On the offensive line, two spots were up for grabs at the start of camp: center and left guard. They have been claimed by redshirt junior Brian Greene and redshirt sophomore Jarrett Kingston respectively.

Rolovich said Greene has done a good job pulling the offense together and being the conductor. He also said that Kingston has a high level of ability and has slotted in comfortably next to Ryan on the left side.

The offensive line will be going up against one of the premier pass rushers in the conference: redshirt senior outside linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. He recorded 14 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss in 2019.

Rashed Jr. will likely be matched up against WSU offensive tackles Abe Lucas and Liam Ryan. Lucas is regarded as one of the best tackles in the conference, earning All-Pac-12 second team berths in each of his seasons as a starter. When Rashed Jr. and Lucas go head-to-head, it will be a matchup to watch.

Another new starter on offense is a familiar face for Cougar fans: redshirt junior wide receiver Jamire Calvin.

He missed the entire 2019 season due to injury but has returned healthy and will now be lining up on the outside instead of in the slot.

“I think he’s really reveling in the opportunity to play again and is pretty excited,” Rolovich said.

The defense is a much different story. New defensive coordinator Jake Dickert will be taking over a unit that is only returning six starters from last year’s team.

The challenge for the defense this week will be stopping junior running back Jermar Jefferson in the Oregon State backfield. Jefferson has rushed for over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in 21 games for the Beavers.

He had the best game of his 2019 season against the Cougars, rushing for 132 yards on 21 carries, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He accounted for four touchdowns in that game — two rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns.

Redshirt sophomore edge rusher Ron Stone Jr. said Jefferson is a physical runner but everybody goes down when you tackle them.

“He’s a football player, we’re all football players,” Stone Jr. said. “We’re just going to go in there and do our jobs, take him down, wrap him up, take his legs, do whatever we need.”

The WSU Cougars will play the Oregon State Beavers at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Reser Stadium at Corvallis, Oregon. The game will broadcast on FS1.