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How WSU responds at Rutgers could set tone for season

PULLMAN – Wide receiver Gabe Marks was defiant as he addressed the media members who pressed him about what the Cougars would fix after Washington State’s calamitous loss to Portland State, challenging the idea the Cougars need to change weekday preparations at all. “We came out, we had a bad game. The weather conditions were poor … guys weren’t making plays. It’s not the practice, it’s the day,” Marks said. “You’ve been at our practices, you’ve seen how we practice, right?” The Cougars have not changed their practices in years and are unlikely to do so now despite the 24-17 loss. But if normal preparations are good enough, then why weren’t they enough to beat the least-advantaged team the Cougars will play all season? The manner in which WSU reacts to the loss could very well determine the success of the 2015 season. For an example of how difficult it is to recover from 0-2 starts, look no further than last year: an exasperating loss at Nevada followed a deflating one to Rutgers in the opening game. The Cougars have already had their head-scratcher against a smaller program. Losing to Rutgers again would be close to ruinous. Stoic intensity was offensive lineman Gunnar Eklund’s response to the loss, and perhaps their initial setback will rouse the Cougars into better play. Eklund’s staccato answers after the game belied surprise and embarrassment, but perhaps signaled determination. “It’s over. What just happened is over. No more. We’re putting our foot down. We can’t lose,” Eklund said. “We have to do what we have to do, to win the game and play how we play.” A normal day would be a godsend for WSU’s next opponent, the Scarlet Knights, who are hosts to the Cougars on Saturday. This season was a disaster for the Rutgers football program even before the team played it first game. First came an investigation into whether or not head coach Kyle Flood illegally contacted a faculty member regarding the academic status of former player Nadir Barnwell. Barnwell is a former player because he and four other defensive backs were dismissed from the team 10 minutes prior to Saturday’s game against Norfolk State because of assault allegations. Oh, and the Scarlet Knights played without star receiver Leonte Carroo – he of the 78-yard touchdown against WSU one play into the 2014 season – potential starting quarterback Chris Laviano, and three other players for the first half because of curfew violations. Still, Rutgers did was it was supposed to against an athletically inferior opponent, taking out its angst by pummeling Norfolk State 63-13. The Scarlet Knights aren’t as good as they looked in their first game, just like the Cougars aren’t as bad as they looked in theirs. But Rutgers’ response to an ongoing tempest of difficulty was infinitely better than WSU’s was when things were unexpectedly hard against the Vikings. Now the Cougars have another chance to respond to an adverse situation. The manner in which they do could define their 2015 season.
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