Toa Lobendahn to Start at Left Tackle in Place of Injured Chad Wheeler


Saturday night wasn’t only the third USC football loss of the year, it was the season finale for redshirt sophomore left tackle Chad Wheeler, who tore his ACL.

Senior journeyman lineman Aundrey Walker took over for Wheeler against Utah, but going into game prep for Washington State, a plot twist has arisen that could see the Trojans play as many as four freshmen on the offensive line.

True freshman Toa Lobendahn has moved over from left guard to left tackle and will make the start, according to head coach Steve Sarkisian.

Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers looks to be on the fast track to make his first ever collegiate start, as he fills in at left guard while Damien Mama continues to battle through a nagging injury.

The right side of the line remains in status quo, with Viane Talamaivao starting at right guard and Zach Banner getting the nod at right tackle. Max Tuerk remains the center.

As for Aundrey Walker? He’s either in a giant dog house, or Sarkisian has the utmost confidence in the long-term abilities of Lobendahn. Or maybe both.

Sark raved about him to reporters on Wednesday morning, saying that he looked ‘really good’ on film, presumably from Tuesday’s practice when the move was first experimented with.

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Losing Wheeler, who will undergo knee surgery on Monday, is without question pivotal for the Trojans. In just his second full season as a starter, he had been a solid performer throughout the year and was a big part of why the Trojans have steadily improved their pass protection throughout the season.

Given the importance of the left tackle position as the blind side protection for quarterback Cody Kessler, Lobendahn will find himself with a whole lot of responsibility come Saturday afternoon in Pullman.

Washington State’s pass rush sits in the middle of the Pac, averaging 2.4 sacks per game in conference play. However, seven of their 12 sacks came against Oregon, who has been downright abysmal in terms of pass protection.

USC’s game with the Cougars will kick off at 1:30 p.m. PT on Saturday and will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

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