Apple Cup now in doubt
One day after it was learned starting quarterback Jayden de Laura had come down with COVID-19, Washington State’s game against Stanford was canceled and declared a no-contest due to the Cougars falling below the 53-man scholarship requirement, the Pac-12 Conference confirmed in a statement Friday afternoon.
Stanford explored other options to play a game this weekend, but determined none were feasible, the school said in a statement. According to Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury-News, the Cougars’ Nov. 27 rivalry game against Washington could also be in jeopardy.
In a school statement, WSU Director of Athletics said the Cougars fell below the 53-man threshold for “a number of reasons” and that the school had been in communication with Stanford throughout the week, optimistic Saturday’s game would still be played. A school official confirmed to The Spokesman-Review the team held a normal practice on Thursday in Pullman.
In a statement confirming the cancellation, the Pac-12 said the decision was based on “Washington State not having the minimum number of scholarship players available for the game as a result of a number of positive football student-athlete COVID-19 cases and resulting isolation of additional football student-athletes under contact tracing protocols.”
In order to play, the Pac-12 requires teams have 53 scholarship players available, including at least one quarterback, seven offensive linemen and four defensive linemen. The Cougars have been able to field a full squad the first two weeks of the season, but it hasn’t come without its challenges, and more of those came up this week.
News of de Laura’s positive test emerged Thursday, but it’s unknown how many other WSU players were placed in COVID-19 protocol due to positive tests or contact tracing.
“I’m disappointed for our team and our players,” first-year WSU coach Nick Rolovich said. “They have battled through so much this year. We had a good week of practice and were excited to play this game. I recognize the pain they feel with his lost opportunity but this 2020 football team is a resilient group of young men.”
As Chun alluded to, the Cougars have faced other obstacles this season, with a handful of players entering the transfer portal of opting out of the 2020 campaign altogether. Will Rodgers III, a senior who’s started in a handful of games for WSU over the years, was the latest player to enter the portal, submitting his name just two days after the team’s 43-29 loss to 11th-ranked Oregon.
After the season opener at Oregon State, first-year coach Nick Rolovich told reporters his team had 32 players unavailable, that they didn’t bring a full travel squad to Corvallis and that “if a few bad things happened, I’m not sure we could’ve lined up.”
Injuries have also been an issue for the Cougars. Junior running back Max Borghi has been the most notable absence through two games, but WSU played without “Z” receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. in the most recent game and the Cougars have had to survive without a variety of other players on their depth chart early in the season – for injuries and other reasons. That list includes: edge Willie Taylor III, safeties Chad Davis Jr. and Tyrese Ross, cornerback Derrick Langford and linebacker Travion Brown.
Before de Laura’s positive COVID-19 test, there had been only one known case on WSU’s football team and just five within the athletic department since daily antigen testing began in October. As of last week, the school had administered more than 5,000 daily tests to football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball players.
But that number has seen at least a slight uptick this week, with men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith contracting COVID-19 on Wednesday, forcing him to miss at least one game on the team’s bench. No other members of the basketball program were placed in the COVID-19 protocol.
WSU-Stanford becomes the fifth Pac-12 game to be canceled or altered this season and the first one this week. At this point, all other games in the conference are moving ahead as scheduled.
During the first week of the season, games between Washington and California, and Utah and Arizona State were called off due to COVID-19. Last week, California’s game against Arizona State was canceled, as was UCLA’s against Utah, but the Golden Bears and Bruins still managed to sneak in a crossover game at 9 a.m. on Sunday.