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Originally published Wednesday, September 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Cougars turn to young QB Marshall Lobbestael

Washington State football has been changing fast under first-year coach Paul Wulff, but never so quickly as in the past few days. WSU announced Tuesday that...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Washington State football has been changing fast under first-year coach Paul Wulff, but never so quickly as in the past few days.

WSU announced Tuesday that Kevin Lopina, its starting quarterback the past two games, is out for 2 to 6 weeks with a fracture of the L-4 transverse process of his vertebrae.

Lopina had been diagnosed with a shoulder bruise suffered on a blind-side hit Saturday against Portland State, but the back injury was discovered in further tests.

With Gary Rogers sidelined for the season — he suffered a small fracture of the vertebra after he relieved Lopina against PSU — the start Saturday against Oregon falls to Marshall Lobbestael, a redshirt freshman from Oak Harbor.

It will thus mark WSU's third starter at quarterback in five games.

"He's excited, he's a young guy," said Wulff of Lobbestael. "He's a competitor."

Wulff has admitted Lobbestael is largely an unknown quantity, because practice repetitions went almost exclusively to Rogers and Lopina in both spring and fall camps. Lobbestael threw two passes, one intercepted, against California Sept. 6, but hit for touchdowns on his first two throws against Portland State and finished 9 of 12 for 149 yards.

"I'm trying not to get too worked up about it," Lobbestael said after practice Tuesday night. "One of my coaches told me last night not to get all geeked up. I'm trying to relax and prepare the best I can. I'm trying to catch up on everything."

Lobbestael (6-3, 195) led Oak Harbor to the state Class 4A title in 2006, then redshirted last year at WSU. He figures to be the Cougars' starter from now until potentially the end of the season, if he has some success. He has two more years of eligibility than Lopina, who had thrown five interceptions in 50 attempts.

This week will no doubt be a crash course in college quarterbacking for Lobbestael, which Wulff said was evident Monday.

"We [coaches] were here at about 10:30 [p.m.] and he was still watching film," Wulff said. "He'd been here all day. Finally, we told him, 'Get the heck out of the office.' Marshall's putting in too many hours."

The injuries underscore the fragility of WSU's offensive line. The hit on Lopina came through WSU's left side.

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"The running back needed to get over there, and Kevin needed to direct him over there," Wulff said Sunday, adding that game-planning is tough because "you can't just worry about your quarterback [injuries] all the time."

Behind Lobbestael, there are only two options: redshirt freshman walk-on Dan Wagner of Portland (5-11, 209) and true freshman J.T. Levenseller (6-1, 187). Levenseller entered school in January. He is the son of receivers coach Mike Levenseller.

Wulff hinted he probably would burn Levenseller's redshirt season if Lobbestael became unavailable — "if it's a long period of time."

Meanwhile, WSU announced linebacker Jason Stripling, a junior, is done for the year with a shoulder injury, something that has plagued him throughout his WSU career.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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