But during his Tuesday afternoon news conference, WSU coach Paul Wulff said the part of the rationale for starting true freshman Jeff Tuel at quarterback on Saturday at Oregon was to protect sophomore Marshall Lobbestael.
"With the health of our offensive line, he (Tuel) may give us the best shot to move the football with his feet," Wulff said. "We felt that he (Lobbestael) would be put in a vulnerable position again. It wasn't fair to him."
LOBBESTAEL TORE LIGAMENTS in his knee last year against Oregon State. Wulff said even some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL -- Tom Brady (New England) and Carson Palmer (Cincinnati) -- do not play as well the year after they return from such an injury.
"The thing that everyone has to understand is Marshall is a young quarterback coming off a major injury," he said. "We're not here to anoint anyone. We want to make sure we take care of their growth."
Autzen Stadium perhaps is the loudest venue in the Pac-10, and Wulff said he might have hesitated to start Tuel there if he had not performed well in last week's 27-6 loss at USC. Tuel saw his first collegiate playing time and completed 14 of 22 passes for 130 yards and also was intercepted once.
Wulff said what makes Tuel's performance even more impressive is his lack of time in the program. He noted that a couple of other true freshmen starting at quarterback -- Matt Barkley (USC) and Tate Forcier (Michigan) -- enrolled early and were able to partake in spring football.
"I think that's more of a tribute to his ability to do things well," said Wulff, adding that the interception was a combination of a forced throw and the wide receiver failing to make a play on it.
WULFF AGREED THAT the insertion of Tuel also created a buzz on WSU's sideline. Wulff said the reason behind that was because no one was sure what to expect.
"I think he came in and surprised a lot of people," he said. "All of a sudden we go right down the field on his first drive. That says a lot. Freshmen aren't supposed to do that."
The Cougars' offensive line has been hit hard by injuries, which might make Tuel's scrambling ability even more important. Wulff said junior Micah Hannam and freshman Tyson Pencer look to start at tackle, and senior center Kenny Alfred is entrenched at his position.
But WSU's depth at guard has been decimated. Juniors Brian Danaher and Joe Eppele -- neither of whom were starters at the beginning of the season -- now top the depth chart there. Sophomore B.J. Guerra (knee) and junior Zack Williams (high ankle sprain), whom Wulff referred to "as fine of guards as there are in the conference," remain out as WSU heads into practice today.
Sophomore Steven Ayers, who moved inside after starting the first three games at left tackle, suffered a high ankle sprain against the Trojans and will miss two to four weeks, said Wulff. Kevin Freitag, who had surgery on his toe during the summer, remains out indefinitely.
WULFF SAID AN UNSETTLED offensive line is all right for Tuel, adding that he "relishes" escaping pressure.
"He's OK with the rush," said Wulff, adding that he expects the Ducks to apply plenty of pressure against Tuel. "He's going to find a way to get away."
Wulff just hopes that will translate into points earlier in the game. USC took a 20-0 lead in the first quarter, but held just a 7-6 advantage the rest of the game. Southern Methodist also took a commanding early lead before WSU pulled out a 30-27 overtime win Sept. 19.
"We've got to start faster on offense," said Wulff, reflecting on the opening drive of the season in a 39-13 loss against Stanford on Sept. 5. "We had a 17-play drive and got nothing."
Depending on the availability of senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman, who has missed two games with a knee injury, that might mean extensive playing time for Spitz. He has started at defensive end in Kooyman's place. Wulff said Kooyman should practice this week, but is questionable to play against the Ducks.
"He's extremely competitive and really mature," he said. "I didn't know he would be able to be consistent like he has since he's been here."
Wulff compared it with missing a short putt in golf and then overcompensating on the next hole out of anger.
Phase III involves construction of a edifice that houses 2,200 luxury boxes and premium seats. Revenue from those seats alone is expected to generate nearly the same amount as the rest of the stadium combined.
"We need to keep moving forward," he said. "If we want to compete consistently in the Pac-10, we have to get these things done."
Some other areas Wulff said the program has made significant strides are in their physical presence, being mentally tougher, improving the talent level and becoming more resilient.