November 13, 2011 in Sports

WSU starting quarterback spot up for grabs

Wulff to decide between Halliday, Lobbestael
By The Spokesman-Review
 

PULLMAN – When your redshirt freshman quarterback throws for a Pac-12 record 494 yards, even an experienced coach like Paul Wulff, not one to praise individuals over team, has to express his admiration.

“Yeah, it did. There is no question,” he was impressed, Wulff said Sunday of Connor Halliday’s performance in Washington State’s 37-27 upset win over Arizona State at Martin Stadium.

“The other part of it was the receivers making the plays for him as well.”

Halliday’s yardage total, coming in a relief role, was the best in conference history for a freshman and just 37 yards shy of Alex Brink’s school record of 531 yards against Oregon State in 2005.

And it doesn’t guarantee him a start Saturday when Utah, 6-4 overall, 3-4 in conference play and still in the Pac-12 South Division title hunt, visits.

“We have a decision to make by Monday evening when we get to the practice field,” Wulff said.

Marshall Lobbestael, who has filled in for injured starter Jeff Tuel much of the year and started his eighth game this season in the win over ASU, is a fifth-year senior and Saturday is WSU’s senior day. The Cougars will take a 4-6 overall record and 2-5 Pac-12 mark into the last home game of the year.

“It could. Absolutely it could,” Wulff answered when asked if the senior day ceremonies could play a part in the decision.

No matter who takes the snaps, he should benefit from the increased intensity of the offensive line, which played one of its better games against ASU. The group gave up just one sack and was more aggressive throughout, with center Matt Goetz actually picking up a personal foul for driving a Sun Devil into the ground at the end of a play.

“We’ve been talking about this, particularly the last few weeks,” Wulff said, “to continue to improve our aggression, to continue to play at a high level for four quarters and to play with more attitude on a consistent basis.

“This week we did that.”

The Cougars were not all that intense on special teams, with ASU returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown, the second time in three weeks and the fourth time this season WSU has yielded a score by that coverage unit.

Wulff said the staff has identified the problem. To fix it, he’s willing to use defensive starters, something that’s been off-limits this season in an attempt to avoid injuries.

There was one special-team injury Saturday that may have cost the Cougars a point. Long snapper Zach Koepp suffered a concussion on an early punt and backup Alex Den Bleyker, a true freshman, had to jump in on the Cougars’ first extra point without warming up, Wulff said. The snap was high.

“After that, all the punts and all the PAT attempts were really good,” Wulff said of the walk-on’s play. “I was pleased with Alex stepping in and finishing the game out.”

Starting defensive end Leonard Williams suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee and will probably be out this week. Kickoff returner Marcus Mason suffered an ankle sprain and may miss time.

Starting middle linebacker C.J. Mizell, who suffered a shoulder sprain against California that flared up Tuesday at practice, causing him to miss Saturday’s win, should be back this week, Wulff said.

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