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Originally published November 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 17, 2008 at 1:12 PM

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WSU Football | Lopina may play Saturday vs. UW

Washington State starting quarterback Kevin Lopina is "responding pretty well" to what coach Paul Wulff called Sunday "a very mild concussion," and said Lopina has a reasonable chance to play in Saturday's Apple Cup game with Washington.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Washington State starting quarterback Kevin Lopina is "responding pretty well" to what coach Paul Wulff called Sunday "a very mild concussion," and said Lopina has a reasonable chance to play in Saturday's Apple Cup game with Washington.

"The tests they did on him today came back reasonably good," said Wulff. He added that Lopina will be tested throughout the week and cautioned, "I'm just speculating."

Lopina left WSU's 31-0 loss at Arizona State Saturday and was replaced by true freshman J.T. Levenseller. Lopina, a junior transfer from Kansas State, has 10 interceptions without a touchdown pass, but appears to give the Cougars (1-10) a better chance to win than Levenseller, who was pulled from a redshirt season on Nov. 1 at Stanford.

"J.T. makes mistakes, no question," Wulff said. "But it's not necessarily his fault. He's playing, but he's not 100 percent ready. That's about all I can say."

Lopina was 11 of 16 against Arizona State for 82 yards. Levenseller came on to go 7 of 14 with one interception for 41 yards. Levenseller has thrown 23 passes this season.

The Cougars have played five quarterbacks and lost two, Gary Rogers and Marshall Lobbestael, for the season. Behind Levenseller on the depth chart is walk-on redshirt freshman Daniel Wagner.

Whoever quarterbacks the Cougars, he'll be operating a unit that has had only rare spurts of success. Washington State scored 28 points against Arizona last week but suffered its third shutout of the season at ASU.

The Cougars haven't thrown a touchdown pass since Lobbestael had two against Oregon Sept. 27. He was hurt two weeks later.

Wulff said he saw flashes of offense early in the ASU game, but WSU missed a field goal, and its defense — which he said performed relatively well — couldn't keep the Sun Devils from their fourth victory of the season.

"We've had some flashes of plays being made on defense the last two games that haven't been there before," Wulff said, crediting Fevaea'i Ahmu, Louis Bland, Toby Turpin and Matt Mullennix for their play against ASU.

Wulff said he notices some similarities between the Cougars and Huskies (0-10).

"They've [the Huskies] done some good things, they really have," Wulff said. "They've played fairly hard and they're competing."

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Wulff said he doesn't think the bedraggled state of the two teams lessens the meaning of the rivalry for the players.

"I hope not," he said. "You know what, it's a big game. It's still going to be a great game and a great atmosphere. I think our kids are going to be excited to play it. Hopefully, it'll be a very entertaining game. It should be a fun one to watch."

Wulff is remembered for playing in the 1989 Apple Cup in Seattle just 18 days after he had an emergency appendectomy.

Washington State will be without reserve running back Chantz Staden, who is valuable as a return man and upback on the punt team, on which Wulff called him "the quarterback." The returns likely will fall to freshman Kevin Norrell and senior receiver Brandon Gibson.

With Staden out and Chris Ivory still hampered by a bad hamstring, WSU's depth at running back could be thin, especially if Logwone Mitz isn't back from a shoulder injury. Dwight Tardy is the starter.

Wulff said he didn't plan on any unusual locker-room oratory Saturday.

"I think there will be enough said and enough riding on this," he said, adding a win "could wash away a lot of the bitter taste in our mouths."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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