It’s not as if Nick Rolovich undervalues his placekickers. The Washington State coach just wants them kicking more point-afters than field goals.

In other words, the Cougars (0-1, 0-0) want to see better offensive efficiency inside and outside the opponent’s 20-yard line when they play Portland State (0-1, 0-0) at 3 p.m. today in a nonconference football game at Gesa Field (Pac-12 Network).

“(Kicker) Dean (Janikowski) did a good job,” Rolovich said, “but we’re not in this game to kick (multiple) field goals when we get down to the red zone. We need to get seven points. We need to get a little confidence going offensively.”

Despite a resurgence of the coronavirus, no limits will be placed on crowd size, and fans aren’t required to wear masks. Starting in October, they’ll need to show proof of vaccination, or a recent negative test, and must wear masks.

Janikowski, a sophomore backup whisked into duty when starter Andrew Boyle encountered an unspecified physical issue before kickoff, went 3-for-4 on field goals last week in a season-opening game against Utah State.

But the Cougars paid heavily for their red-zone sputtering when the Aggies, who were 17-point underdogs, caught fire in the final quarter and rallied from a 12-point deficit to win 26-23.

In contrast to last week, the Cougars (and their fans) have known for several days who’s likely to start at quarterback. It will be sophomore Jayden de Laura, who started all four games in 2020 but lost a tight preseason competition to graduate transfer Jarrett Guarantano.

An injury was the reason de Laura wound up replacing Guarantano in the second quarter and played the rest of the way. But it seems likely he’d have claimed the No. 1 role this week regardless. For one thing, he lent the Cougars a spark when he took he field. For another, Rolovich liked the way he handled the news of his demotion.

“Jayden deserves a ton of credit,” the coach said. “Nothing between the lines — he proved a maturity level, a growth that maybe he wasn’t in a position to prove during camp a whole lot. Loved his energy, loved his communication on the sideline.

“He was down after we didn’t name him the starter, which he should be. But he didn’t throw his helmet down and go jump in the transfer portal. He put his head down, went to work and was here for his teammates. I think that’s something everyone can respect.”

Guarantano is reportedly doubtful today with a knee injury incurred when he was tackled for a safety last week. So the probable backup is junior Camm Cooper.

One thing de Laura will strive for is a sharper connection to his receivers, especially the outside screen game. But the Cougars’ offensive issues last week were multifarious. Their vaunted offensive line had trouble adjusting to a first-quarter injury to center Brian Greene, and their run game languished aside from a spectacular 68-yard touchdown run by Max Borghi.

“I don’t think we threw the ball particularly well,” Rolovich said, “and that’s not the quarterback position entirely. The whole passing game was subpar. Screens, I understand they go on the passing chart, but we need to get more out of the dropback game. I thought we didn’t adjust early enough.”

Asked why Borghi had finished with only 11 carries, Rolovich said “It’s a fair question” but “I didn’t feel like we were terribly effective in the run game other than (the long Borghi run).”

The Game 1 reviews were kinder to the WSU defense, but the Cougars looked fatigued and increasingly confused in allowing 15 points during the final 5½ minutes. There was an obvious defensive breakdown on the winning 7-yard touchdown pass.

“The moment did get too big for us at the end of the game,” senior safety George Hicks III said. “We (allowed) routine plays that we had seen throughout the week in practice and also throughout the game. We just didn’t execute.”

Their offensive teammates share part of the onus for that.

Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.

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