"I think some people read too much into this," Paul Wulff said. "We feel this decision is best for Cougar football now and in the future...We want to find some stability at the position. If you're going to have success in college football, you've got to find a triggerman to do that. We're just trying to get there."
The decision announced today by Wulff was to elevate Marshall Lobbestael to starter -- and to play true freshman Jeff Tuel.
A true freshman QB taking snaps at Washington State is rare indeed. Other than J.T. Levenseller, (when a horrific run of injury occurred at the position over the season), you really have to go back to 1990 to find a situation similar to that of Tuel's.
FORMER WSU COACH Mike Price faced the dilemma in 1990 when true freshman Drew Bledsoe took playing time away from veterans Aaron Garcia and Brad Gossen. Like Wulff in 2009, the '90 campiagn was also Price's second year with the Cougs. The result then was a well-documented division within the team, but Wulff doesn't fear that scenario occurring with this group.
"We've got a lot of young guys starting to lead," Wulff said. "We don't have locker-room lawyers right now. That's not what we're going to be about. We're very open with the players on what we're trying to do. If someone can step up and help the team, I think everyone is all for them."
Tuel will become only the third frosh (Bledsoe, Levenseller) to take snaps at quarterback at WSU since true freshmen were allowed by the NCAA to play in 1972.
SOME FANS FELT that Kevin Lopina had emerged as the top quarterback through his play the first two weeks. He's completed 28 of 42 passes for 313 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
"Let's just say there's some things out there on the field that people don't see from the naked eye," Wulff said. "We feel Marshall in practice deserves an opportunity — the same one Kevin has had. Not that Kevin lost it, but he also hasn't won it."
Wulff also said the coaching staff had given Lopina an opportunity through 10 starts combined the last two seasons to prove himself. And Wulff said the coaching staff hasn't seen enough "separation" between the quarterbacks and want to give Lobbestael, a third year sophomore, an opportunity to start.
Lobbestael started three games in 2008 before suffering a season-ending injury to his left knee against Oregon State.
"We just felt after two games that Marshall had not had a fair opportunity," Wulff said. "The two times he's come in, we've been behind. He's played a little bit and gained some confidence. I think he deserved that opportunity."
Tuel, who played behind current Cal QB Beau Sweeney before starting his senior season at Clovis West High in Fresno, Calif., probably will play Saturday when the Cougars face Southern Methodist at Martin Stadium.
Wulff said playing time would be determined in part by how well Tuel performs this week in practice, where he's sure to see plenty of reps with the 1's as opposed to running the scout team.
"We still haven't had a quarterback step up and take charge," Wulff said. "We need it."
WULFF SAID LOBBESTAEL, who has completed 10 of 19 passes for 114 yards and an interception this year, could still play the entire game against SMU and if Lobbestael does perform exceedingly well, Tuel still could redshirt. Listening to Wulff this afternoon, however, he acknowledged that possibility is unlikely, though.
"We've got 10 games in front of us," Wulff said. "We would consider not playing him."
Wulff said Tuel has emerged in practice.
He said Lopina "needs to be ready to play because there's a great chance he still will play a lot this year."
Wulff said Tuel's practice time will significantly increase this week. He said giving Tuel playing time not only could improve this year's team, but give him preparation to run the offense in the future.
"He's very mature," he said. "He's picked up the offense extremely well for his age.
"Jeff is athletic. We feel he can escape pressure if there is some at times. He handles things at practice at a very mature pace. We feel there's talent that's ready to be developed."
WULFF SAID the ideal situation would be to redshirt Tuel, but didn't feel that was an option any longer.
"We would love to redshirt him," he said. "It's not an ideal situation.
"This isn't a knock on him (Lopina) or anyone else, but we need to play better there. It's about trying to develop that position moving forward.
If Tuel plays, he will join defensive end Travis Long and wide receiver Gino Simone as the third true freshman playing this season for the Cougs. Wulff said the coaching staff hopes it is able to continue redshirting others like linebacker Darren Markle.
WULFF SAID PLAYING Tuel could benefit the program's recruiting efforts.
"I think it shows a lot of players out there that we've got a nice, young football team," he said. "I think that's a great advantage we have right now."
Wulff can't speak specifically about recruits until they sign on National Letter-of-Intent Day in February, but he said the decision to play Tuel was not about putting an extra year between him and the quarterback they sign.
Spokane's Connor Halliday has verbally committed to the Cougars. If Halliday redshirts, he would be a redshirt freshman in 2011 while Tuel would be a junior.
"Whoever we bring in always is going to have an opportunity to compete," Wulff said. "We're trying to get better."
Another inexperienced player Wulff hopes to see against SMU is redshirt freshman Tyson Pencer. The 6-foot-7, 297-pound left tackle is listed behind sophomore Steven Ayers on the depth chart. But with starting left guard Zack Williams likely to miss at least a couple of weeks because of a high ankle sprain suffered against Hawaii, Wulff said Ayers could move into that position.
"He's a young man with a lot of ability," Wulff said of Pencer.
Junior Chima Nwachukwu is listed as the starter at strong safety with redshirt freshman LeAndre Daniels possibly out for the rest of the season because of a broken leg he sustained against Hawaii. But Wulff said Nwachukwu also could play cornerback along with redshirt freshmen Terrance Hayward and Daniel Simmons.
Senior Dwight Tardy is listed as the starter at running back, but junior James Montgomery could end up in that role. Wulff said Montgomery, who sat out last season after transferring from Cal, was "a little banged up" after the Hawaii game. Montgomery rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries against the Warriors.
Sophomore Alex Hoffman-Ellis is listed as the starter at middle linebacker. Wulff said Hoffman-Ellis has played well, but the staff also is concerned about senior outside linebacker Andy Mattingly, injured against Hawaii. Mattingly has been cleared by doctors for a slight concussion, but Wulff said he also has a bruised thigh/shin. He said starting Hoffman-Ellis allows the staff to play sophomore Louis Bland at either linebacker position.
Wulff said he expects SMU to run the ball in its run-and-shoot scheme more than Hawaii. Junior running back Shawnbrey McNeal has 225 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries this season as the Mustangs are 2-0 after finishing 1-11 last year.