PULLMAN – As much as they’ve enjoyed five consecutive games in front of a home crowd, the Cougars are actually a little roadsick.
The only team in the FBS that has yet to leave home for a football game will finally get a chance to do so when No. 11 Washington State visits Oregon in Eugene on Saturday for a 5 p.m. game at Autzen Stadium.
Up until now, the Cougars haven’t had to pack a suitcase, board an airplane or stroll into a venue where the opposing fans are howling and hissing every time they step up to the line of scrimmage.
Road games in the Pac-12 can be especially uncomfortable – there’s a hostile setting in just about every corner of the conference’s geographical footprint – but that’s what the Cougars say they’ll enjoy about this next leg of the season. They play five of their last seven games away from the Palouse, including the next two, at Oregon and California.
“I actually really like road games, I think the guys actually do a pretty good job on the road,” Washington State quarterback Luke Falk said. “I think the only thing you have to adjust to is crowd noise, a lot of nonverbal communication, which we’re working on out here. Everything else, it’s just a normal football game. You’ve just got to have better communication.”
It’s especially pivotal for a quarterback in Mike Leach’s Air Raid system. The offense gives Falk a rare level of autonomy and the senior has the freedom to make checks and calls at the line of scrimmage that are often dictated by the how the defense is setting up.
But those verbal cues often get lost in the sound waves generated by the home crowd and WSU, which leaves for the Willamette Valley on Friday, will have to brave one of the noisiest venues in the country Saturday evening.
Autzen Stadium officially seats 54,000, but the Ducks drew 55,000-plus in last weekend’s game against Cal and hit 58,000 earlier this season when Nebraska came to town.
The Cougars can’t replicate an atmosphere like that, but they’ll simulate it as best they can by infusing artificial noise into practices this week.
And they’re still licking their chops for the real thing.
“I think everybody’s kind of anxious for it at this point and looking forward to it,” Leach said. “This is a funny conference, teams on the road play well.”
Oregon’s iconic venue is the loudest in Pac-12, Leach says, but it doesn’t hold a candle to a number of the Big-12 and SEC stadiums the coach traveled to during his stints at Texas Tech and Kentucky.
And which venue had Leach’s ears ringing the most? Well, naturally War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas: capacity 45,000.
“Entirely concrete structure,” Leach said of Arkansas’ old home stadium, now the primary home venue for Arkansas Baptist College. “It’s as if you have a football game in the neighbor’s basement and all the kids were yelling louder than hell. And you could tell when you were starting out, you’d clap your hands and you could hear it five times and you’d yell, ‘Go, go, go go … hit, hit, hit, hit.’ You figure there’s 45,000 and you multiple that times five, that equals approximately 250,000. That’s a lot of people and there’s no stadiums that hold 250,000 people.”
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