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Cougars expect their best against Rutgers

NEWARK, N.J. – Tension exists in any press conference after a loss, and even more so when those in the room are fully aware that the loss will be remembered as historically embarrassing. The severe mood last Saturday spiked, momentarily, when a reporter asked head coach Mike Leach if he worried about getting fired after such a bad loss. But it dissipated when Leach, rather than demean the question’s intelligence or demand a new question, as he often does, calmly gave a reasonable answer. “I don’t, because all they have out of me is my best,” Leach said. “I do the best I can every day and that’s all they got. There’s nothing else to give beyond that.” The loss touched such a nerve among WSU fans that for many the last week was spent adding their own questions about whether or not the coach’s job was safe. Most of the detractors concluded that Leach was protected by virtue of an enviable contract, which would require WSU to pay the coach $4.8 million in the event of a dismissal. But those piranhas will continue to nibble if Leach’s best efforts yield another unsatisfactory result at Rutgers this weekend, which would push an already difficult-to-see winning record over the horizon. There are plenty of reasons to think the Cougars could come out and beat the Scarlet Knights on Saturday and end the season’s second week with a 1-1 record that prior to the season most fans would have considered reasonable, if not particularly exciting. The Cougars have played well with their backs against the wall before under Leach, keeping their bowl hopes alive with a win at Arizona his second year as coach. WSU saved its relevance for one more week last season with a road win over a Utah team that finished with a 9-4 record. And Leach ended a more-difficult-than- expected first season with an especially rousing Apple Cup win in Pullman. The prescription for following last week’s loss with a win isn’t complicated – the Cougars just have to play better. Prior to the season, Rutgers certainly looked like a winnable game for WSU and the Scarlet Knights have only made it easier, dismissing six players, amid other off-field turbulence. WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said he believes his defense has practiced full-contact tackling more than most FBS teams, so more or better preparation will not improve the slippery grips of WSU’s defenders. They just have to tackle better. And the coaches have to make sure the defenders know which gaps they’re supposed to be in, to eliminate those plays in which a PSU player did not even have to escape a would-be tackler. “We’ve got to do a better job trying to prepare our guys to execute our jobs and execute our plays,” Grinch said. Leach alluded to just one potential variation from the norm as a result of the PSU game, albeit a fairly significant one. He said that many of the players, quarterback Luke Falk included, overthought their assignments last week. So, he’s going to give Falk less to think about. “We want our quarterback to have the ability to check,” Leach said. “I think we’ve got to curtail some of that. I think it needs to be more either/or instead of just opening the thing up.”
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