With starting quarterback Jeff Tuel out up to 6-8 weeks with a broken collarbone, the Cougars will turn to fifth-year senior Marshall Lobbestael when they host UNLV Saturday at 2 p.m. (Radio only)
Lobbestael started WSU's 64-21 win over Football Championship Subdivision member Idaho State last Saturday when Tuel came down with a stomach virus. Tuel then played late in the first quarter and injured his collarbone, and now Lobbestael takes over for a month or maybe longer.
WSU coach Paul Wulff says the change in quarterbacks won't alter the team's offensive game plan much.
"There will not be a major change to what we do or how we do it,'' he said. "There will be a few things we do to tailor to Marshall, but what we do is what we do and there will be some things that Marshall will do well and some things that he can't do as well as Jeff. But the bottom line we have to operate our system and play the way you have been coached.''
What Lobbestael may not do as well as run and escape pressure. But Wulff says what he can do as well is lead the team. Lobbestael has started seven games in his career, winning two. After starting three games in 2009 he suffered a knee injury and lost his job to Tuel, then a true freshman. Wulff said this week it was a time when Lobbestael could have left the program but decided to stay, and Wulff says that has helped Lobbestael earn the respect of fellow coaches and players.
"That's challenging for any competitor,'' he said. "But he has remained committed. ... He's a great leader on this football team and highly respected so I think our players feel good and that they feel that all the positions on our team are vastly improved."
The Cougars rushed for 289 yards and passed 301 more in their opening rout of Idaho State. Now WSU tests that apparent new-found improvement for the first time this year against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent, though it's also a rebuilding squad as UNLV was handily beaten at Wisconsin last Thursday, 51-17.
WSU hasn't played UNLV since 1990 but Wulff regularly matched up with Rebels coach Bobby Hauck when Wulff was at Eastern Washington and Hauck was at Montana.
"Their running game is definitely a concern,'' he said. "Their quarterback (Caleb Herring) can run, so that adds a whole different dimension to what you have to do to defend. They do a nice job with their formations, so that's going to be the biggest challenge initially. We have to go out and execute with our offense -- they don't beat themselves so we are going to have to go out there and earn it.''
WSU is looking for its first 2-0 start since 2005 in what is a key season for Wulff.
--WSU is 15-3 against current members of the Mountain West Conference, and has won its last eight dating to a 1990 loss against Wyoming.
--The Cougars rushed for 289 yards against Idaho State, their best since rushing for 344 yards against Idaho, Sept. 9, 2006. WSU averaged 8.0 yards per game and did not have a play go for a loss all afternoon.
WSU leads UNLV 4-0 (last meeting, 1990, 40-13 Washington State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE:
WSU's offense could change its look a little bit under Marshall Lobbestael, who isn't as mobile as Jeff Tuel. WSU may also want to try not to put Lobbestael at much risk with only redshirt freshman Connor Halliday behind him. That may not be an issue this week as UNLV showed little ability to stop much of anything in its 51-17 loss to Wisconsin. Expect UNLV to try to put a lot of pressure on Lobbestael. This game will mark a truer test of WSU's reported improvement up front.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE:
The lone red flag in any of the stats from the drubbing of Idaho State was the fact that WSU allowed 430 yards passing. Most of it came after the game was a rout, so hard to know what to make of it. But it would make sense if teams looked at that and will wonder if there are some chances to exploit the Cougar secondary. UNLV QB Caleb Herring completed 18 of 27 passes at Wisconsin last week and showed poise in the face of a tough situation.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"He just has to be one of the 11 on offense. He doesn't have to be the whole offense. We have enough weapons around him now where we can provide a balanced attack.'' -- Wulff on Lobbestael.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: UNLV at Washington State, Sept. 10 -- The rebuilding Rebels present WSU a great chance for its first 2-0 start since 2005, when the Cougars began 3-0 under Bill Doba.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
--Give new QB Marshall Lobbestael time to throw. The good news is that UNLV's front seven is not regarded as very strong, and did little to ease that notion in the blowout loss at Wisconsin.
--Rush the passer. WSU had six sacks against Idaho State. This game will give a little more indication if that is a sign of real improvement or more that Idaho State is not very good. UNLV's one consistent offense last week was the play of QB Caleb Herring so the Cougs will need to get him off his game quickly.
--Start quickly. WSU did that last week, jumping out to a 14-0 lead before many fans had settled into their seats. WSU gained some confidence with the rout of Idaho State but getting an early lead against what seems like an overmatched opponent will be critical to not allow the Rebels to hang around.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Marshall Lobbestael -- The fifth-year senior is now the starter for the foreseeable future. The good news is that he has started seven games in his career so he shouldn't be awed by the circumstances.
RB Rickey Galvin -- The redshirt freshman gave indications of living up to the hype with 64 yards and two touchdowns in seven carries before leaving the game early with the contest turning into a rout. Expect WSU to lean on him a little more this week. Logwone Mitz, Carl Winston and Marcus Mason are also potential ground weapons who had good turns last weekend.
LB C.J. Mizell -- The sophomore is regarded as among WSU's most talented defensive players and he put some of that on display with two sacks against Idaho State. As with the rest of the team, Mizell will be called on to do a little more this week against a better opponent.
-- Darryl Monroe suffered a torn Achilles' tendon and walk-on Travion Smith suffered a torn ACL injury in the Idaho State game and will be lost for the season. Each are promising players and were projected to help on special teams and add depth this year.
--The Cougars were hit by a flu bug early in the week that had a handful of players missing practice. On Thursday, however, all who were affected were back and ready to go, though they did miss some time as the game plan was being put in.
--Washington State coach Paul Wulff said redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Halliday will also see some playing time in spot situations. The 6-foot-4, 181-pounder was one of the more highly-regarded members of WSU's recruiting class of 2010.