SPOKANE — Washington State freshman quarterback J.T. Levenseller will give up his redshirt season and play in his first game Saturday at Stanford, coach Paul Wulff said Tuesday.
The Cougars are so thin at quarterback that Levenseller will likely get plenty of playing time in the final five games, making it worthwhile to pull his redshirt in the midst of a 1-7 season.
Wulff said Kevin Lopina will start at quarterback, but Levenseller will play.
“How you have to look at it is it gives an individual the chance to get better and improve and gain some experience,” Wulff said during his weekly conference call. “It will help him and help our program down the road.”
Levenseller would be the fifth quarterback to see action for the Cougars this season. Gary Rogers and Marshall Lobbestael have been knocked out for the year by injuries. Lopina is playing hurt with a major back injury, and former walk-on Dan Wagner has not been effective.
That leaves Levenseller, the son of longtime assistant coach Mike Levenseller.
The Cougars had hoped to save his redshirt season. But two weeks ago against Southern Cal, they were shut out for the first time since 1984 as Lopina could do little more than hand off to ineffective running backs.
The Cougars (1-7, 0-5 Pac-10) had a bye last week after enduring the 69-0 loss at home to Southern Cal that was the worst defeat in program history. They play at Stanford (4-4, 3-2), then finish with games against Arizona, Arizona State, Washington and Hawaii.
J.T. stands for Jack Thomas, with the Jack in honor of former WSU quarterback Jack Thompson, Mike Levenseller’s teammate in college. J.T. is 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. The 2007 graduate of Pullman High garnered numerous awards playing both offense and defense in high school.
Wulff said Mike Levenseller tried hard to stay out of the decision, although Wulff sought out his opinion as a father rather than as an assistant coach.
“Sometimes you’ve got to force a dad question out of him,” Wulff said.
No one is expecting the freshman to make an instant impact on a season that is shaping up as the worst in WSU history. The Cougars have been blown out in all five of their Pacific 10 games and are second to last in the nation in both scoring (13 points per game) and defense (48 points per game).
Wulff said that Lopina’s fragile status, with five games left, gave the team little choice but to throw Levenseller into the fire. Lopina suffered a broken bone is his back against Portland State. He was cleared to play against Southern Cal, but the Cougars were clearly trying to prevent him from taking much punishment by throwing the ball only nine times.
“He really wants to play,” Wulff said of Levenseller.
Wulff said the plan is for Levenseller to play a lot of minutes, giving him valuable experience.
“He may have a better opportunity to play this year than next,” Wulff said. “The opportunity is staring him in the face.”
Wulff said top running back Dwight Tardy will be ready for the Stanford game, but backup Chris Ivory and tight end Devin Frischknecht are still out.