Oregon seeks to bounce back against Washington State

PULLMAN, Wash. — The fans aren't the only ones who will need a roster card when Oregon plays at Washington State on Saturday.

Thanks to injuries, both teams may start quarterbacks who barely registered on depth charts when the season began, and only now are practicing with the first teams.

Washington State freshman Marshall Lobbestael will be making his first college start after Kevin Lopina and Gary Rogers both suffered fractures last weekend in a win over Portland State. Until this week, Lobbestael had not taken a single practice snap with the first team offense.

At Oregon, coach Mike Bellotti is refusing to say whether former fifth-stringer Darron Thomas will get the start after playing well in a loss to Boise State. Jeremiah Masoli has been cleared to play after suffering a concussion against Boise State, and Chris Harper is also available.

"It will probably be a game-time decision," Bellotti said. "I'll probably make the decision earlier, but I won't tell anybody."

Thomas threw for 210 yards and three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to bring Oregon to within 37-32 in the loss that knocked the Ducks out of the Top 25.

"I'm getting better, more confident, learning more and getting up to the game tempo by going with the ones," Thomas, who was in high school a year ago, said. "Last week I brought the mentality to practice that I might be playing. This week I feel like I should be playing."

Oregon's big comeback in the fourth quarter fell short, but it did inspire some confidence.

"We know we can win every game we play and last week kind of showed even when we're down we're never out of the game," tight end Ed Dickson said.

Because of scheduling quirks, this will be the seventh time since 2000 that Oregon (3-1, 1-0) has played in Martin Stadium. The games often are nail-biters, with three decided by just 3 points.

"It's a tough trip, it's a tough stadium, it's a tough walk to the locker room," Bellotti said. "They take the Pac-10 Northwest rivalry very seriously and compete their tails off."

Washington State (1-3, 0-1) is looking to prove it can beat someone other than a Big Sky Conference foe in what is a rebuilding year under new coach Paul Wulff. The Cougars looked awful in losses to Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma.

"We are making progress," Wulff said. "We're just having a lot of uneasiness in our offensive line and again in our quarterback position."

The Cougars pounded overmatched Portland State 48-9 last Saturday, but Lopina went down with a fracture in his back in the second quarter and Rogers suffered a fracture to a neck bone in the third. That brought in Lobbestael, who completed nine of 12 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns, and was named Pacific-10 offensive player of the week.

But less than one half of play is too soon to pronounce him ready, Wulff said.

"He has a chance to be a good player if he keeps developing and working hard," Wulff said.

Behind Lobbestael, the quarterbacks are walk-on Dan Wagner and J.T. Levenseller, a true freshman who enrolled in January.

There was some discussion during the weekly Pac-10 coaches call about whether rules should be changed to better protect quarterbacks.

Bellotti said the game is inherently violent.

"It's just literally that people are bigger, faster and stronger and collisions become that much more violent," he said.

Washington State continued to allow turnovers against Portland State, throwing three interceptions and making four fumbles, although it lost only one. The Cougars also are thin at linebacker.

Oregon, as usual, is putting up big offensive numbers, averaging 43 points per game. The Ducks are piling up 300 rushing yards per game, with LeGarrette Blount averaging 95 yards and Jeremiah Johnson 87 yards.

Oregon leads the all-time series 40-38-7. The two teams have split the past six meetings.

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