Tuel is more mobile than Marshall Lobbestael, who started past two games but had trouble avoiding rush at USC

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For two reasons, Jeff Tuel will become the first true-freshman quarterback to start at Washington State since Drew Bledsoe in 1990 when he faces Oregon on Saturday night in Eugene.

First, WSU coach Paul Wulff said Tuesday, Tuel acquitted himself well at USC last week, showing mobility, and among other things, he “hit the guys that were open. That’s all we’re looking for from the quarterback.”

Second, the Cougars’ offensive line is a mess, and despite Tuel’s youth, Wulff and his staff believe he’s better able to deal with that than Marshall Lobbestael, who started the past two games but is coming off a 2008 knee injury.

Wulff said one reason Tuel replaced Lobbestael at USC was that Lobbestael looked “vulnerable” to Trojans hits. Tuel is more mobile.

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Said Wulff, “If I look at it as if it were my son, it’s not fair to Marshall, for a guy not fully recovered, to potentially face the rush of guys coming free. He’s going to take more hits than Jeff will.

“Jeff has the ability to escape and make those guys miss. I think the best thing for us is to protect Marshall until we can solidify our line.

“To be honest, Jeff isn’t fazed by the rush. He doesn’t get too concerned. If you rush him, he’s going to find ways to make plays with his feet. He relishes that.”

Tuel may have to make such plays at Oregon, because the offensive line is still undergoing changes. The Cougars are without sophomore guard/tackle Steven Ayers (ankle sprain) for two to four weeks. Earlier, they lost guards Zack Williams (high ankle sprain) and B.J. Guerra (knee), and guard-center Andrew Roxas is redshirting because of an earlier case of viral hepatitis.

In 1990, Bledsoe had a mid-October start at Oregon State as a true freshman, winning 55-24. Two years later, he led a nine-victory season and became the first pick in the 1993 NFL draft.

Referring to Tuel, Wulff said, “He gives us the best chance to win right now.”

In other injury news, defensive tackle starter Josh Luapo is gone for the season with a knee injury. Wulff said defensive end Kevin Kooyman, who hasn’t played since Sept. 5 because of a knee problem, might be able to practice this week and play.

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

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