PULLMAN – The Cougars can’t escape this game’s significance, try as they might to ignore it.
Washington State coach Mike Leach does not have to dip deep into his bag of Leachisms to say that Saturday’s season opener is only important because it is the next game, and is equally as important as every next game that ever has been or will be.
This is a man who says he will only barely have time to reflect on the broken records and momentous occasions of his career once he has retired, and can’t imagine wasting a brain cell on such self-indulgence before then.
Gabe Marks recently flabbergasted a group of Spokane reporters by showing so much indifference to the Eagles one might wonder whether or not the star receiver even knows where Eastern Washington University is located.
“I don’t know Eastern Washington,” Marks said after thrice refusing to call the game a rivalry. “I don’t even know where that is.”
But to think a game between the only two football programs between the Cascade Mountains and potato country is devoid of meaning? Malarkey!
EWU is the first team Leach beat as the WSU head coach, a job he took over from Paul Wulff, who the Cougars hired away from EWU. Both teams are now led by senior wide receivers who were freshmen during that game, Marks and EWU star Cooper Kupp, who was redshirting at the time.
And though Leach is sure to dismiss such statistics, others will note on his behalf that after the game the Cougars will either have their first season-opening win with Leach as head coach, or their second consecutive home loss to an FCS school.
Further showing that EWU is not simply any random FCS school, the WSU coaches have surely noticed how many teams they recognize showed up on the Eagles film. Unlike most nonconference opponents, WSU has the benefit of judging the Eagles by looking at their tape against familiar foes Oregon, Oregon State and Washington over the last three seasons.
It’s a particularly easy comparison because EWU’s offense is somewhat similar to WSU’s Air Raid. Well, sometimes it is.
“They’re very multiple, they’ll give you lots of personnel groupings,” WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “Major in some, minor in others, but from a preparation standpoint you’ve got some broad strokes in several areas, which is a pain.”
Is this a rivalry? No, not at all, but it will be treated like one by fans who work, watch or live together, especially if the game is close.
And is it especially important?
It’s the first game of the 2016 season, and the opening kickoff will signal the end of weekends sans football until after the New Year.
Of course it is.
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