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Struggling Cougars lack focus

PULLMAN – Despite an unexpectedly poor start to the 2014 season, the Washington State football team is afflicted with an air of positivity that prevents it from realizing its flaws, according to coach Mike Leach.

At his weekly Monday media availability, Leach said the team’s focus has been an issue, and that the Cougars have had trouble isolating their focus from the outside opinions, or “noise.”

“I think sometimes it’s more troubling where it’s all positive noise because we need to change stuff but if something doesn’t go good for you, everybody wants a pick-me-up and you’re trying to hear something good,” Leach said. “Well, I mean we’re at a point where we really can’t accept that. We need to focus on our work and know that our work has got to be better and not follow human nature and let ourselves off the hook.”

The Cougars are expected to pick up a win this weekend against FCS opponent Portland State but, according to coaches, the team needs to do a lot more than outscore one challenger to create the winning culture the program is lacking.

After a good game offensively against Rutgers, the Cougars continually stalled near the red zone against Nevada. Defensively, the Cougars struggled against the Scarlet Knights and were fine against the Wolf Pack. Players lamented after both losses that members were struggling to “buy in” to the coaches’ system.

“We have a team that wants to get better. We are trying to figure out what exactly we need to do to get over the hump and by all means we’re going to put forth the effort to do that this week,” Leach said.

He added that the team is practicing and training well but has been unable to translate that performance to a game. WSU is 0-2 after losing to Rutgers and Nevada despite being favored in both games.

Those losses, and late losses to Washington and Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl last season, exacerbate a feedback loop by spreading the culture of losing that Leach says is preventing the team from realizing its potential.

“Some of it’s just the expectation and getting used to winning and part of the thing we’re battling here is there is nobody on our team that has won in college football,” Leach said. “And so we have to take that step and that’s why it’s so important that we’re strong internally, because, for well over 10 years nobody’s won here. There are no players on the team that have won; nobody’s won.”

Two to redshirt

Because of a missed spring and a slow start to fall camp, the WSU coaches have considered having Gabe Marks – last year’s leading receiver – sit out the 2014 season. On Sunday, Leach confirmed that is likely the course the Cougars will take, saying, “We’re going to try and redshirt him if we can.”

He explained that, “Basically, we have two seniors at the position and it’s sort of clouded up right now and he was behind in his offseason for definitely understandable reasons and so sequence is better for us, better for him, so that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Those two seniors are Isiah Myers and Kristoff Williams, who entered fall camp ahead of Marks on the depth chart at the Z receiver position. Marks had surgery in the spring for an undisclosed injury, and was arrested in February for assault and criminal trespass after frequenting a tavern as a minor.

The injury and arrest may have contributed to his starting fall camp so low on the depth chart, but a hit to the head during a fall scrimmage effectively ended what had been a very good camp.

Leach indicated the team also intends to redshirt Brett Barolone, a receiver who started as a true freshman in 2012 but has battled injuries since.

Marks has been healthy lately, however, and has been a force on scout teams for WSU playing both receiver and quarterback in order to help the Cougars prepare to face the Pistol offenses of Nevada and Portland State. 

If Marks redshirts, he will still have two seasons of eligibility remaining at the start of next season. Myers has been a revelation at Z through two games and is second on the team with 15 receptions for 196 receiving yards and has tied Vince Mayle for the team lead with a pair of receiving touchdowns. Williams has two catches for 36 yards and has been the team’s primary kickoff returner.

Lineup shakeup

The Cougars will continue to give new defensive backs in-game opportunities in order to see if anyone can emerge as a Pac-12-level contributor. The team released its depth chart for the Portland State game on Monday and true freshmen Pat Porter and Sulaiman Hameed were listed as backups at cornerback and safety, respectively.

It’s the second consecutive week the two-deep has seen multiple changes among the defensive backs.

Additionally, the linebacking corps has an entirely different second string in the new depth chart. Allison will move over to back up Will linebacker because Chester Su’a is limited and not expected to return soon. Peyton Pelluer will take over as the backup Mike linebacker, and Paris Taylor is listed as the new backup at Sam.

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