PULLMAN – As the need for something different grows, the harder change becomes, and so the Washington State football team’s upcoming game against Idaho has surprisingly emerged as one of the season’s most pivotal.
The Cougars are expected to beat the Vandals, and, despite the 0-2 start to the season, WSU will be expected to win handily (early lines from Las Vegas show betters favoring the Cougars by nearly four touchdowns).
Without exceptional execution that yields wins the Cougars have nothing to reinforce the effectiveness of their preparations. Coach Mike Leach has barely changed his practice script during his five years in Pullman and he is unlikely to rewrite the weekly schedule much now.
The issues apparent in WSU’s two three-point losses will linger until they are banished emphatically. With a bye week on the horizon, the Cougars need a win this weekend – a big one – at the very least to reinforce their faith in their own methods during their two-week preparation for Pac-12 play.
Though the Cougars have not been entirely on the same page through the season’s first two weeks, there is agreement that the team’s problems are mental.
Leach decried his team’s lack of toughness after the Boise State loss on Saturday.
“We beat Boise State in virtually every category, except toughness,” Leach said. “We walked out there, decided Boise’s tougher than us and was convinced Boise was tougher than us, too. Until the fourth quarter, we didn’t do anything to change that.”
Running back Jamal Morrow said individual players were tentative, hoping that teammates would step up and make the decisive plays that lead to victory.
“We don’t want to make a play first,” Morrow said. “Of course, we all want to make plays, but you can’t be, I don’t know, hesitant to make a play.”
Quarterback Luke Falk synthesized the various ideas in a unified theory of WSU’s mental woes.
“I think we haven’t responded to adversity, whether that’s toughness or anything like that, I think it’s a mindset,” Falk said. “We need to respond. Coach (Alex) Grinch said that one thing we’d be promised every Saturday is adversity, and he’s been right. We need to respond.”
In the Vandals, WSU will face its third consecutive northwest foe full of players who would love to notch a win against the local Pac-12 school. Former WSU and current Vandals defensive coordinator Mike Breske is sure to put a lot of thought into the game plan against his old team.
Though UI (1-1) has not exactly had a great fortnight itself, the Vandals have some talented players and took a few successful shots in their 59-14 loss at No. 8 Washington this past weekend.
It is entirely possible this Saturday’s game will once again present WSU with a dose of adversity.
The Cougars have their diagnosis. The treatment will be most effective if performed quickly. It is reasonable to assume that a winning team is more coachable, that its players are more eager to step up and become playmakers.
A team with pride in its record is probably tougher, too.
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