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Endangered species

Sun., Oct. 12, 2008

Injuries continue to mount among Cougars’ offensive linemen

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Washington State offensive line is running out of players.

The group suffered through another tough game Saturday in WSU’s 66-13 defeat at the hands of Oregon State in front of 45,289 at Reser Stadium, suffering from a lack of continuity and an inability to execute.

The former can probably be traced to the injuries. With right guard Brian Danaher unable to go with a sore shoulder, Moses Lake High’s B.J. Guerra, a redshirt freshman, made his first collegiate start.

With Danaher out, WSU started its fifth different lineup on the offensive line in seven games.

But the problems didn’t end there.

Left tackle Vaughn Lesuma suffered a right shoulder injury in the first half and didn’t return, standing on the sidelines in the second half.

Walk-on Will Hunter replaced Lesuma. But he was playing with a heavily bandaged hand, courtesy of a broken finger suffered last week.

After Slade Norris beat Hunter to the corner and rolled into Marshall Lobbestael early in the fourth quarter and knocked the quarterback from the game, sophomore Joe Eppele replaced him.

“Frustrating, very frustrating,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said of Oregon State’s constant pressure on Lobbestael. “The offensive play book is about 20 percent. He doesn’t have enough help around him. The kids are trying, the players are trying.”

With Lobbestael’s backups, freshmen J.T. Levenseller and Dan Wagner, Wulff said the second-half plan was to max protect the quarterback.

“If we were going to throw the ball, we made a decision at halftime to keep a lot of players in to block,” he said. “We were keeping seven in – that should be a fairly safe protection. And it wasn’t.”

The Beavers sacked Lobbestael five times – Norris had two, though Lobbestael got rid of the ball on the play he was hurt – and drove him to the ground on uncounted occasions.

“We just wanted to pressure the quarterback and we did that,” Norris said.

The Cougars also had nothing in the way of a rush offense, gaining just 53 yards on 42 attempts, though the 47 yards lost on the sacks played into that total.

Missing Tardy

Part of WSU’s problem moving the ball on the ground was the Cougars’ running game was missing its top gun, junior Dwight Tardy. WSU’s leading rusher – 300 yards on 83 carries – was in street clothes, sidelined by a knee strain.

With Chris Ivory back in Pullman because of a pulled hamstring, Chantz Staden started. He came in having gained 81 yards on 21 carries this season. He finished with 47 more on 17 carries.

Tight end Devin Frischknecht limped off in the first quarter with what was termed a high ankle sprain.

X-rays were negative, but the senior is out indefinitely.

Unexpected action

Wagner, who his from Portland, had lots of family in the stands. They came to support him but never thought he would play.

“Maybe last night in their dreams,” Wagner said.

When Lobbestael was hurt on the second play of the fourth quarter, Levenseller got up first and started throwing.

But, after a quick discussion – made all the quicker because OSU’s Damola Adeniji blocked the ensuing punt for a touchdown – the WSU coaching staff decided to try to save Levenseller’s redshirt season.

Which meant Wagner, a redshirt freshman who until recently ran the scout team, got the call.

“Just manage the clock and try to get out of here healthy,” he said the coaches told him.

He didn’t pass, but he did recover his fumble for a 2-yard loss and, after handing off to Logwone Mitz, rolled his ankle.

“It’s fine,” he said, avoiding the injury jinx that has seen the Cougars lose three quarterbacks.

“You never would go into a season imagining you would have so many injuries,” Wagner said. “Our coaches say compete and compete and compete, we’ll get it turned around.”

Quick kicks

Former Gonzaga Prep kicker Matt Barker, a freshman, kicked off after the Beavers final four touchdowns. He also added two extra points, his first points of his career. … Andy Mattingly led the Cougars with 11 tackles, the most he’s had since against Cal last season. … Mike Graise made his first start of the season at defensive end and the third of his career. … WSU defense gave up 548 yards of total offense, its second-worst performance of the season. … Brandon Gibson caught the first pass of the game to extend his streak of games with a catch to 30. … Jacquizz Rodgers went over the 100-yard mark for the fourth consecutive game.


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