Kevin Lopina says his injured right wrist is just fine, thanks. And even if it wasn’t, it’s not like he’d be inclined to say so.
With a chance to make his second career start at quarterback for the Washington State football team hinging on the health of that wrist, don’t expect the sophomore to allow a little achiness to stop that from happening.
“It feels good,” Lopina said after Tuesday’s practice. “I went through the whole practice and it feels fine.”
And if Lopina feels fine, coach Paul Wulff said he will start on Saturday against Portland State.
“If he’s healthy he’s going to get the majority of the snaps,” Wulff said earlier in the week.
Lopina injured the wrist in the second quarter of Friday’s 45-14 loss at Baylor.
“I kind of rolled up on it,” he said.
There were a couple of times where Lopina could be seen moving the wrist around, trying to get some mobility back. But it wasn’t bad enough to knock him out of the game.
“With the adrenaline and being my first start, it wasn’t that bad,” he said.
But another hard hit in the third quarter made things worse. The pain grew bad enough that he had trouble gripping the ball. It even led to a fumble. At that point, Lopina knew he needed to come out.
“I told Coach Wulff to take me out and put Gary in because I was only going to hurt the team,” Lopina said.
In three quarters of play, Lopina looked solid at times and shaky at others, not entirely unexpected for a first college start.
“I made some mistakes which I know were from it being my first start,” he said. “I liked that I got the ball out quick most of the time. I felt my mobility was good and it got me out of situations. Of course, a couple times I actually made the situations worse.”
Lopina threw for 174 yards on 17-of-26 passing.He also rushed for an 8-yard touchdown.
“I was pretty excited,” Lopina said of his first college touchdown. “I read the defensive end and I pulled the ball. I knew I was going to score.”
Knowing the Cougars were going to score hasn’t been common this season.
But Lopina feels like WSU’s issues with sloppy execution are getting better with each practice.
“With a lot of these injured guys coming back, our depth is better and we’re adding more of the playbook,” he said. “But it has taken too long.”
Lopina also feels more relaxed knowing he’s going to be the starter this week. It allows him to prepare mentally.
“I think it helps my confidence,” he said.
“I know what to expect and I have basically a whole game under my belt. But at the same time I like the fact that Gary (Rogers) is going to push me. There is still competition for the job. I don’t want to get complacent.”
But even if the practice execution is better for Lopina and his teammates, the Cougars have failed to replicate it in games.
“It’s a matter of focus and discipline,” Lopina said. “Because we have so many guys playing for the first time, we need to overcome all the other outside stuff around you and just focus on what each of us has to do.”
What does that mean for Lopina?
“Just when I get out of the pocket, I need to either run it or throw it away and not try and force it into traffic and try and make an impossible throw,” he said.
Wulff released his two-deep chart for the week with a few changes. Xavier Hicks (6-0/196) is listed as the starter at free safety. Alfonso Jackson (5-9/203) is starting at strong safety, which means sophomore Chima Nwachukwu, who is second on the team with 17 tackles, has lost his starting job. Wulff said that Nwachukwu, who played in 12 games last year at cornerback, will not move back.
“Chima’s strengths would not be a pure cover guy, but he does have some strengths in being able to tackle ... and do some things and that’s why safety is where he is at,” Wulff said.
Sophomore Romeo Pellum (5-10/179) is listed as the starter at left cornerback, while freshman Tyron Justin (5-10/157) is listed as the starter at right cornerback.
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