If you follow Cougar football closely, you've no doubt heard the news: J.T. Levenseller is getting a good, long look at playing time for the Cougars' next game, November 1st at Stanford.
Levenseller is the son of WSU assistant coach Mike, and named after former Cougar quarterback Jack Thompson (hence the J.T.). He attended Pullman High school and is one of those players that I would've hated to see play somewhere else, given his crimson pedigree.
We still haven't seen Levenseller in a game situation, because it was the coaches' plan to redshirt him this year, back when he was #4 on the depth chart behind a healthy Lopina, Rogers and Lobbestael. I had the good fortune, however, of seeing the younger Levy play high school ball - during a little local rivalry game between Moscow and Pullman two years ago. Pullman shredded their border brother and Levenseller looked good doing it - solid footwork, a decent pocket presence and good (not spectacular) arm strength. The only issue I had is that it is easy to look like a men among boys in 2A football, where J.T. led his Greyhounds to a 2005 state championship and a 23-2 career record.
The consensus on Levenseller is that he needs time to develop into a college-ready quarterback. Of course, time isn't on the Cougs' side this season, with two quarterbacks out for the year and another playing after breaking a vertebrae just weeks ago.
So Wulff is planning on playing Levenseller against Stanford. It's not a done deal yet - here's the word from the ball coach himself (h/t Vince Grippi and the Spokesman):
“We try to come up with the best decision for the program and the individual,” Wulff said Wednesday. “If a kid is dead set against playing, in a situation like this, we would never play the kid. If the kid really wants to play and we feel it would beneficial to him and the team, for the current time and the future, then we’ll play the kid.
“Right now he really wants to play and we clearly have two quarterbacks who are out for the year, so it’s looking like that’s the direction we will go.”
OK. I'm fine with Levenseller playing this year, because he can always redshirt next year and this team needs any spark they can possibly find, and a healthy quarterback qualifies as spark material. Especially for this team.
But back to that USC debacle: why didn't Levenseller just play then? Wulff says it was because he didn't want J.T.'s first career start to be against a Trojan defense loaded with future NFL players. I understand that, but let's consider the following things:
1. The game plan: Wulff made it clear all he wanted to do was run the ball and protect Lopina from getting hurt again. If that's the case, why not start J.T. anyway? Is he not capable of handing the ball off? And when we passed (which was only nine times for the entire game), he may not have been as good a thrower as Lopina, but certainly he's a better option than Dan Wagner or Peter Roberts (both high school quarterbacks, but not recruited at that position for college).
2. Kevin Lopina: Why risk any injury whatsoever to Lopina? He broke a vertebrae, and it seems to me an already-hurt QB has a much better chance of getting hurt against USC than a healthy one. And Wulff said in his radio show that Lopina wasn't anywhere near 100%. So again - why take that chance? Better to give Levenseller a trial by fire than have three quarterbacks out for the year. And we have a bye week this week! Why not give Kevin the extra two weeks to get healthy?
3. The scoring streak: With Levenseller, we could have at least tried to extend the consecutive games scored in streak by throwing the ball against the bottom of the USC depth chart in the fourth. I know the scoring streak doesn't matter to some, but you have to admit it was pretty amazing: scoring at least a point in every game since 1984. A run of 280 games overall. Only Michigan had a longer streak - and Michigan is the winningest program in college football history. Basically, I would've rather lost last week's game 107-3 than 69-0.
4. Experience: If you're going to try and win another ball game this year - crazy thought, I know - it's better to get Levy's feet wet earlier. It may not matter; Lopina could come back at 100% and lead the Cougars to another Apple Cup, but for the time being Levenseller is our healthiest, if not best, option under center.
Revisionist history is faulty, and hindsight is 20/20. But we know Wulff wasn't trying to win the game against USC. The game plan said "get off the field with as few injuries and as low a score as possible". Still, he should have tried. And he should have tried with J.T. Levenseller as his quarterback.