Cougar DL will be center of attention

MUCH OF THE focus heading into Saturday's homecoming tilt against the Ducks will be on Marshall Lobbestael, the Cougs' redshirt freshman quarterback getting his first college start. But a critical factor will be how the Wazzu defensive line plays the point of attack. One noteworthy item about the WSU defensive line, and its something Paul Wulff says most people aren't aware of..

Three-quarters of the Cougars' starting defensive 4-3, defensive end Andy Mattingly, defensive tackle Fevaea'i Ahmu and defensive end Kevin Kooyman, either have been or are playing through some injuries that have affected their play. And significantly so in some cases, says Wulff.

"The thing about Andy, the thing people don't realize, is he's been a little nicked up. He's had a few injuries here and there that have slowed him down..(DE Matt Mullennix) playing in(side) there a little bit, that's just because we've been nicked up again at defensive tackle and we're just thin there...A'i Ahmu has been pretty nicked up..he's been extremely limited for us," said Wulff.

But there is some good news on that front.

MATTINGLY AND AHMU, in practice this week, have looked to be moving better than they have in weeks. A healthy Ahmu would help DT Matt Eichelberger when the Cougs are in their base 4-3 defense.

Kooyman injured an ankle against Portland State -- whether it's a factor or not on Saturday might not be known until the first snap.

The plan with Mullennix the last few games, said Wulff, has been to move him inside on occasion when the chances of a running play become more remote.

"When there's passing situations, obvious passing situations, he gives us another guy on the field that has some pass rushing capability. That just helps us to have him in there (against the pass) with Kevin Kooyman.. and Andy Mattingly," said Wulff.

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Mattingly is also a key special teams cog, one that Wulff said the Cougars need to play well there in addition to on the d-line. The Ducks' spread option on paper is not dissimilar to what teams like Baylor and Okie State showed against WSU, said Wulff, but it's the quarterback and running backs' athletic talents that can make it appear so.

Oregon leads the Pac-10 in total offense, averaging a heady 538 yards a game.

THE BOOK SAYS you blitz an inexperienced quarterback until he proves he can beat the pressure.

Oregon has not been a blitz-heavy team thus far but they do pick and choose their spots, and Wulff says the Cougs also have to be prepared if they do come after Marshall Lobbestael with increased frequency.

If disaster were to strike, and Lobbestael were to get dinged up and have to come out, J.T. Levenseller is the No. 2 -- although if the game was nearly over Wulff could still think about trying to preserve his redshirt. But if another quarterback beyond Lobbestael would be needed for any significant amount of time, Levenseller will get the nod.

The true freshman was limited this spring, requiring knee surgery once spring ball ended. And backup quarterbacks, particularly a guy who was the No. 4 signal caller six days ago, don't normally get practice reps with the first or second units.

But young Levy has looked to be making up for lost time in practice this week and his comfort level seems to be climbing with his reps.

"He's really, physically, made a lot of improvement between spring and now... He's a good athlete. He's got good arm strength...and he does some nice things athletically," said Wulff.


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