Showdown w/ Card just another game for Cougs?

PULLMAN – First place is on the line. The game is on national television. The opponent is ranked fifth in the nation. Excuse Gabe Marks while he stifles a yawn. Washington State's standout receiver plays with great energy and joy on the field, but his off-field demeanor reflects his "Southern California cool" upbringing, and Marks refuses to make Saturday's game with Stanford bigger than it is.

"Is it the biggest game of the year?" Gabe Marks asked Monday. "It's another game. I mean, yeah, I guess, because they're ranked five in the nation, if we win, it'll be a good win for us. But I just look at it as another game."

A game that WSU can win, Gabe?

"We expect to win the game, obviously."

Marks oozes the sort of confidence that can be found up and down the Washington State roster. The Cougars know they're bigger, stronger and better than a year ago, when they gave Stanford a huge scare before bowing 24-17 in Palo Alto.

"We should have won that game," cornerback Nolan Washington said Monday.

Just as Marks plays down the "biggest game of the year" angle, Washington isn't making too big a deal out of the fact that Saturday's game will be played in his hometown of Seattle.

"Football is football," he said. "If you're playing in Seattle, playing in Pullman, playing there (at Stanford), I just want to win."

A win would give the Cougars one more victory in league play and overall than they had all last year. The Cougars are 3-1 with three straight wins, and their 1-0 Pac-12 Conference record puts them in a first-place tie in the North Division with Stanford and Oregon State. The three other North teams, including second-ranked Oregon, make their conference debuts Saturday.

Cougs vs Cardinal

The kickoff: 7 p.m., CenturyLink Field.


The line: Cardinal by 9 1/2

The series: Stanford leads 37-25-1

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"We haven't peaked yet," Marks promised. "There's a lot more to come."

Marks acknowledges that yards and points won't necessarily be easy to come by against Stanford.

"They're a physical defense," he said. "Their front seven is really good.

"They've got a really good defense. I think we match up pretty well with them."

Indeed, WSU has played tough, physical defense and stands 10th in the nation in total defense and second in pass defense. The Cougars have better defensive stats than the 3-0 Cardinal.

"They think they can stop a lot of people," Marks noted, "but we think we can score on a lot of people.

"We'll see who's the better man."

The battle in the trenches, as usual, will have a huge impact on the game. WSU's offensive line looks much improved from the crew that gave up a whopping 10 sacks at Stanford last year. Washington said he's eager to see how the Cougars' rugged defensive line stacks up against a Stanford offensive line ranked the nation's best by ESPN.

"I'm looking forward to it," Washington said. "I really like what our defensive line has done this year.

"It's made my job a lot easier out there playing corner knowing I have a D line that is going to get to the quarterback. It's going to be fun watching those two (lines) battle and fight the whole game."

Linebacker Darryl Monroe said all of Washington State's defensive players are looking forward to a physical contest with a "great" and "disciplined" Stanford team.

"On defense," Monroe said, "if you don't enjoy physical battles, you might want to be on offense."

Monroe and Washington said WSU's defense has come a long ways mentally and physically from a year ago.

"You can just feel the chemistry," Monroe said. "It's completely different."

"We set a goal this season that we want to be a top 10 defense," Washington said, "so us doing it now, it doesn't surprise us.

"I mean, we know if we go out and play our game, we can dominate anybody."

Marks said the WSU offense is "completely different" from last year and "even from the USC and Auburn" games at the start of this season.

"We're more comfortable," said Marks, who leads WSU with 31 catches, 348 receiving yards and three touchdown receptions. The latter figure ties Marks with Dom Williams.

Connor Halliday ranks fifth in the nation with 1,288 passing yards and is tied for ninth with 10 touchdown passes. That helps offset his eight interceptions, which is tied for most in the country.

A helpful addition to WSU's offense has been ruggged running back Jeremiah Laufasa, a sophomore transfer from NCAA Division II Central Washington. Laufasa is a short-yardage specialist who leads the Cougars with four touchdowns (all on the ground), even though he ranks third on the team with just 13 carries and 65 rushing yards.

"I get a little bit (of teasing)," Lafausa said with a smile. "You know, there's always those jokes, like, ‘Oh yeah, 20 carries, 20 touchdowns, there's your season stats.'"

Laufasa is not on scholarship, but he said he's "having fun out here ballin' and winning games." Born in American Samoa, he grew up in Seattle and Kirkland and admits he once cheered for Washington.

"As soon as I came here," he said, "I bled crimson and gray."

Players on both sides figure to spill a bit of blood on the artificial turf of CenturyLink Field on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN). WSU coach Mike Leach admits he would prefer playing all home games in Pullman, but Monroe says he has no preference.

"I'll go anywhere," he said with his typical fervor. "I'll play in the desert if they tell us we had to. As long as I'm playing with my brothers, it doesn't matter."

OF NOTE: As of Monday morning, just more than 30,000 tickets had been sold for Saturday's game, athletic director Bill Moos said. That matches the sales pace for the Oregon State game in Seattle in 2011, when the Cougs and Beavs drew 49,219. Last year's Seattle game, against No. 2 Oregon, attracted 60,929. The Oregon crowd ranks second behind the 63,588 that turned out for WSU's first Seattle game, a 2002 contest with Nevada.

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