Decision on starting QB in next 24 hours

WHETHER THE LIKELY PAC-12 Player of the Week will make his first start at 2 p.m. Saturday when Washington State hosts Utah will be determined in the next 24 hours. Redshirt freshman Connor Halliday completed 27 of 36 passes for 494 yards and four touchdowns during Saturday's 37-27 win against Arizona State. But Paul Wulff on Sunday did not rule out another quarterback starting.

Wulff often has praised Marshall Lobbestael's character throughout the rebuilding process at WSU and said that he "absolutely could" be a consideration to start when the Cougars (4-6 overall, 2-5 Pac-12) host the Utes (6-4, 3-4). He said he wants to review game tape with his players first, but "we'll have a decision made by Monday evening" on which signal-caller starts.

Lobbestael has started 7 of 9 games this year -- junior Jeff Tuel had the other two -- but played just two series Saturday. He completed 1 of 3 passes for 9 yards before he was replaced by Halliday.

Halliday, who graduated from Ferris High in Spokane, established season-highs in conference play for passing yards and touchdowns despite seeing his first playing time since Sept. 10. Wulff praised both Halliday and his wide receivers for helping WSU produce 590 yards of total offense. Sophomore Marquess Wilson had 223 yards and three touchdowns on eight receptions. Senior Isiah Barton also had 155 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions.

"They helped him out in a lot of ways," said Wulff, who also praised Halliday for not forcing balls into coverage too often. "It was a combination of both in the passing game. (Halliday) did surprise me in terms of accuracy and composure."

But Wulff also was pleased with other aspects of his team's play, particularly the physicality of the Cougars' offensive line.

"We played them a year ago and didn't play a great game," he said, referring to last year's 42-0 loss at ASU. "I thought this week we did that. We were the aggressor.

"We've got to come back this week and match it or take it to another level."

Wulff reiterated that playing at Martin Stadium for only the second time since Sept. 10 also was significant.

"Right now we're 3-1 at home," he said. "The fans create issues for the opposing offense. They need to help us out by being in the stadium."

ONE AREA WSU continued to struggle in was special teams. Jamal Miles returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. The Cougars now have allowed more kickoff returns for touchdowns (four) than any other of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. They also allow 24.7 yards per kickoff return, which ranks 110th.

Last year, special-teams coordinator Dave Ungerer had the No. 1 kickoff return coverage team in FBS. WSU did not surrender a touchdown on kickoff returns last year and only allowed an average of 17 yards per return.

Wulff said the Cougars' schemes have not changed. He said it is a combination of kickoffs that lack "height and depth" and playing four true freshmen on those teams.

Changing kickers does not appear to be an option -- both sophomore Andrew Furney and junior Alex Gauper have struggled in practice. Wulff said they have used more true freshmen on that unit to rest starters, but the coaching staff will have to consider changes. With just two regular-season games remaining, he said playing starters on special teams might not be as big of an issue as it would throughout the season.

"We've got to do something to make sure that doesn't happen," Wulff said.

Another special-teams breakdown occurred when junior long snapper Zach Koepp suffered a concussion. Wulff said that happened right before Wilson scored an 85-yard touchdown on Halliday's first pass in the opening quarter. Because of that, Wulff said backup long snapper Alex Den Bleyker did not have an opportunity to warm up. What followed was an errant snap that did not allow Furney to kick the extra point. But Wulff said Den Bleyker's snaps were not an issue the rest of the game.

"I was pleased with Alex stepping in and finishing the game out," he said.

  • Junior defensive end Lenard Williams sprained the medial-collateral ligament in one of his knees against the Sun Devils. Wulff said he is "very doubtful" for Saturday's game. True freshman running back Marcus Mason also suffered an ankle injury and is questionable for Saturday. But Wulff expects to regain sophomore starting middle linebacker C.J. Mizell, who sat out against ASU after aggravating a shoulder injury suffered Nov. 5 at California during practice last week. (the official stat book mistakenly listed him as a starter)

  • Wulff said he was not aware that the intentional grounding rule for players other than the quarterback outside the pocket was different. Wilson was cited for that penalty on a throw during a trick play Saturday.

  • Senior linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis had six tackles against the Sun Devils and Wulff said his speed was an asset.

    "He played a darn good football game," he said. "If you get him in space, he really shows up. It was great to have him out there running down their speed."

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