UNLV foe turns to capable backup QB

An injury to the No. 1 quarterback is usually a good break for an opposing team, but it’s unlikely to help UNLV much Saturday at Washington State.

Talented junior Jeff Tuel broke his collarbone during the Cougars’ opener against Idaho State and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

His backup, fifth-year senior Marshall Lobbestael, filled in superbly and led Washington State to a 62-21 win. Lobbestael completed 14 of 19 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns.

UNLV (0-1) will see little difference between the Cougars’ No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks in Saturday’s 2 p.m. game at Pullman, Wash. The game won’t be televised.

“Obviously, when you have a senior coming off the bench to back up at that position, it’s a little different than a freshman or redshirt freshman or somebody who hasn’t played much,” Rebels coach Bobby Hauck said Monday. “So you just don’t see the same amount of dropoff that you do in the other situations.”

Tuel didn’t start the Cougars’ opener because of a stomach virus, and Lobbestael led them to two touchdowns before Tuel entered. He got hurt during his only series, quickly putting a damper on a season of high expectations after Washington went 2-10 in 2010. Tuel completed 59.8 percent of his passes last season for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions.

Washington State still might show improvement, especially if Lobbestael continues to run the spread offense as well as he did against Idaho State.

“He just went in and ran their offense,” Hauck said. “They’re system people, and he understands it and can do it.”

Lobbestael played in only six games last season, completing 7 of 15 passes for 61 yards. He started a combined six games in the two prior seasons.

Hauck said he probably had enough video of Lobbestael from the Idaho State game to be able to evaluate him.

UNLV’s secondary is the strength of its defense, but defending the pass remains a major concern, largely because of an anemic pass rush. The Rebels had only 12 sacks last season, and they never made Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson hurry a throw in Thursday’s 51-17 loss to the No. 11 Badgers. Wilson was named Big Ten Conference offensive player of the week after completing 10 of 13 passes for 255 yards and two TDs.

UNLV must get pressure on Lobbestael if it is to slow down Washington State. The secondary, too, must make plays to keep the Cougars from scoring at will as they did against Idaho State.

Washington State made it look easy with its backup quarterback.

“As they should be, they’re feeling pretty good about themselves,” Hauck said.

■ NOTES – Hauck said reserve quarterback Joe Portaro will be given the time and room he needs to mourn the death of his 16-year-old sister, Christina, who died in an ATV accident Saturday. … Eric Johnson, who didn’t play in the opener because he was academically ineligible, is listed as the backup wide receiver to Michael Johnson. Eric Johnson still hasn’t been cleared, but Hauck expects that to occur before the game.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.

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