Four factors drove Cougars' QB shake up

PULLMAN – Paul Wulff's decision to bench Kevin Lopina, start Marshall Lobbestael and burn the redshirt of Jeff Tuel appears to have been driven by four factors, say sources close to the program. Factor one: Lopina's shortcomings. He can't stretch the field with his arm – at least not with accuracy. And his laid-back attitude undermines his leadership.

"The Cougars need more fire," said one source who asked not to be identified. "With the youth of this team, they need a leader more like Jason Gesser, someone who held people accountable on every play. Kevin is more get along, go along. Combine that with so-so skills and this shake up seems logical."

Factor two: If the season – as it appears now – is headed toward double-digit losses, there's no point in going down with a senior. "If you're going to lose, you lose with youth because you're getting them up-to-speed for the future. They need experience to get better. It's the brutal truth of the game," said another source who requested anonymity. "There's no substitute for playing time."

Lopina is a fifth-year senior, Lobbestael a third-year sophomore and Tuel a true freshman.

Factor three: Given the state of the Cougars' porous defense, the only way the team is going to stand a chance at victory is to get into shootouts that light up the scoreboard. Lopina is viewed as steady -- he can manage the offense but not produce a lot of points. Lobbestael and Tuel are viewed as young guns with significant upsides and arms that might give the offense greater flexibility.

As a veteran, Lopina is more likely to make the right reads than the other two quarterbacks, the sources say. "But that's about as good as you're going to get from him," noted one. "If you don't have All-Americans all around him, that's not going to get you very far."

Factor four: Tuel's work in practice. While Lobbestael has been named the new starter, it's Tuel who has tended to turn heads since arriving in Pullman. "Jeff Tuel has physical tools the other guys do not," said a third source who requested anonymity. "He's going to struggle just like Drew Bledsoe did as a freshman. But he has some amazing tools -- he's just better than the other two guys right now. I'm all for this move."

Tuel's stock is fueled by several factors, say those who've watched him play: he can throw deep, he's big (6-3, 207), tough, and smart. "Marshall is an intriguing guy too but you can tell he's still not comfortable with his (surgically repaired) knee," said one. "Tuel is the best guy. He gives the Cougars the best chance to win."

Paul Sorensen, the outspoken old WSU All-American safety and former Cougar radio color commentator, did go on the record with when asked Tuesday about the veritable bombshell Wulff delivered.

"When I was in Pullman last month watching fall camp I came home and said the quarterback on the roster who struck me most was the one with the least experience. Tuel has a big boy arm and he's coachable as hell. So my reaction to burning his redshirt is that it's about time!" said Sorensen. "When you look at what happened against Hawaii the other day it's hard to justify keeping this kid on ice."

At practice on Tuesday, Lobbestael took all but a handful of reps with the first-unit offense. Tuel took the remainder and spent the rest of the workout with the 2s.

Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy was coy Tuesday after practice when asked how much -- if any -- playing time Tuel would see this Saturday against SMU. "Jeff's got a lot of ability and potential. Let's remember he hasn't taken a snap yet, but we recruited him because he's got a lot of talent, he's definitely proved that since he's been here."

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