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Saturday, September 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

Takes 2 to tangle

Cougar QBs split duties

By John Blanchette And Vince Grippi Staff writers

PULLMAN – Paul Wulff was purposefully coy about just how – or even whether – he’d apportion time between quarterbacks Kevin Lopina and Marshall Lobbestael in Washington State’s football season opener against Stanford.

And in the end, the Cougars’ coach split it nearly down the middle.

Which suggests the job share won’t be ending soon.

The two-headed quarterback experiment didn’t translate into the win column for the Cougars, who fell 39-13 to the Cardinal at Martin Stadium. Statistically, the offense seemed to operate better under the starter, Lopina, under whose direction all three WSU scores were produced.

But Wulff wasn’t ready to make any specific decisions Saturday evening.

“Both the guys did some good and there are some things we can correct with both of them,” Wulff said. “It was a great opportunity for those guys to get some live reps.

“We got in some situations late in the game where we had to throw it and we weren’t as crisp and the intensity died down a little bit. Those are things we have to get better at.”

Lobbestael spent a good bit of his fourth-quarter appearance trying to avoid being splattered by Stanford’s defense, which had no reason to stay honest to defend the run at that point. In the end, the five possessions he quarterbacked produced just 19 snaps and 68 yards, as he completed 8 of 13 passing attempts.

“I felt like some balls I could have got out faster to help the line out,” said Lobbestael, in his first live game action since suffering a knee injury that cut short his 2008 season. “Other than that, I felt good. I wish we would have gotten some more first downs on the drives I was on.”

Lopina, meanwhile, was 10 of 16 for 122 and his first collegiate touchdown pass, a lob that turned into a 50-50 ball – teammate Jared Karstetter’s half being the only part that counted.

“I was so out there in the moment, I didn’t really think about it (being his first touchdown),” Lopina said. “I was just glad we put points on the board.”

Lopina’s 41 snaps accounted for 284 of WSU’s 352 total yards, but he shrugged off the question of sharing time, saying, “That’s a coach’s decision and I just do my part. If that’s what they want to do that’s what they want to do. When I’m in there I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Lobbestael didn’t think it had an effect on the offense one way or the other.

“Kevin and I are both lucky that we have pretty good chemistry with the guys on our offense,” he said. “I think the other 10 guys adjusted really well to us coming in and out. I don’t think it even matters to them and it doesn’t faze me at all. Kevin looked good so I assumed he felt good, too.”

Defense adjusts

The Cougars’ defense had just two players start in the same position they played last year – end Kevin Kooyman and free safety Xavier Hicks. A couple of the switches came in the last week of practice.

Still, considering all the juggling, co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball was satisfied.

“We knew there were going to be some mistakes made from lack of experience, but off the top of my head I thought they did well, better than I thought (they would) actually,” Ball said.

“I thought we would have a lot more blown assignments. But they played really well.”

The late switches included moving Louis Bland, who started at the Will or weakside linebacker at the end of last season, to the middle, a place he said he hadn’t played since Pop Warner.

“Middle was fun,” the sophomore said. “I think it fits me pretty good. It’s easy for me to read linemen. There are not as many rules as the Sam and the Will. You just kind of read your keys and go.”

Bland’s best example of “just going” came in the third quarter when the 5-foot-10, 202-pounder met the 6-1, 235-pound Toby Gerhart in a hole and rocked the runner back for a 2-yard loss.

Bland led the Cougars with 10 tackles, eight solo.

Junior strong safety Chima Nwachukwu moved back to his freshman position, cornerback, this week and earned Ball’s praise.

“He played really well,” Ball said. “He gives us more strength out there on the edge.”

“Corner was a nice transition,” Nwachukwu said. “It was a game-planning thing this week. We’ll see if I stay there.”

With Nwachukwu at corner, sophomore LeAndre Daniels made his first start at strong safety.

Block wall

Sophomore safety Eric Block, playing in WSU’s nickel package – a scheme they did not use last year – came up with the game’s biggest hit. He knocked two players out of the game in the process.

On a third-and-24 late in the third quarter, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck tried to connect with big-play wide receiver Chris Owusu over the middle. But Block, playing center field, lowered his right shoulder and caught Owusu, who was looking back for the ball, in the chest just after the ball arrived.

Owusu didn’t make the catch. In fact, it took him a while to get up. When he did, he was helped to the sidelines and did not return. He was being evaluated for signs of a concussion.

But Block didn’t return either. He suffered a stinger in his shoulder and will be reevaluated today.

Stanford also lost right tackle Matt Kopa, who left Martin Stadium on crutches.

WSU’s Brandon Jones turned the ankle he hurt last week while on punt coverage, but did not leave the game and Daniels missed a play after cramping up.

Luck earns praise

Redshirt freshman Luck made his collegiate debut memorable, completing 11 of 23 passes for 193 yards and a 63-yard strike to Owusu.

“They made some good grabs and he made some good throws,” Ball said of Luck’s performance. “He was putting that ball in a good spot.”

“He didn’t look rattled one bit,” Gerhart said.

Maybe that’s because Luck benefited from good protection much of the game. He was sacked just once and rarely hurried.

Wordcount: 1038

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