Oregon just another game, Cougs say

PULLMAN— It doesn’t matter that the No. 2 team in the nation comes to play the Cougars on Saturday. It’s the first Pac-12 game of the season for WSU, and that also doesn’t matter. At least, that’s how the Cougs say they need to play against Oregon.

The speed of Oregon is undeniable. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has thrown eight touchdown passes and rushed for three more this season, and he has 156 yards on the ground already. Those rushing yards are only 14 fewer than all WSU running backs combined this season. That speed cannot be exactly replicated in the Cougars’ practices leading up to the game. But linebacker Cyrus Coen said that effort will kill the speed.

“It doesn’t matter who we’re facing,” Coen said. “We’re going to give 100 percent in everything we do, and practice hard every day. Our opponent is just a faceless opponent. We’re going to do the same thing, same routine every day, work hard, and that’s it.”

Head coach Mike Leach said Oregon’s speed allows them to overcome their mistakes easier than other teams can. That is a luxury the Cougars don’t have.

“They’re fast at nearly every position, so I think that mitigates a lot of them,” Leach said.

Wide receiver Dom Williams said that perfection isn’t possible for anyone in this game, but the effort has to be there, just like Coen said.

“Mistakes are going to happen. Nobody’s perfect in this game, so we just come out and do the best we can,” Williams said. “We want to win every individual battle so that’s all we want to do.”

The Cougars played a relatively complete game in all three phases of the game against Portland State, Leach said on Saturday. Defensive lineman Toni Pole said the same thing on Monday, but he said there were still mistakes the team made, and those need to be corrected this week.

Execution will be extremely important for the Cougars when they face Oregon, and the team will need to limit the big plays that the Ducks make, Leach said.

“The biggest thing is you don’t want to squander plays,” Leach said. “Oregon’s a fast team, they’re an explosive team, and people that don’t play within themselves will squander plays, and they’re not a team you can afford to squander plays against.”

Leach said the Ducks’ national ranking doesn’t matter, and all the Cougs can do is take care of themselves. The players echoed that, saying that they need to just do their job, which doesn’t change with any opponent.

“We’ve got to work hard on our conditioning this week,” Coen said. “With such an upbeat tempo like Oregon, our conditioning is going to be key this week, so we’ve just got to work hard at practice, and play every practice like a game rep.”

Pole harped on one thing above all else: “Don’t stop.” He and Coen both said everybody needs to run to the ball, and that is especially important when trying to stop Mariota. Even though the Cougars sacked Mariota three times last year, Pole said it is tougher to sack him than other quarterbacks the Cougars face.

Mariota is shifty and can get himself out of weird situations, Pole said. The hunger for pressuring Mariota is what allowed the Cougars to have success last season against him, and that will need to continue this Saturday, Pole said.

Pole has faith in both the 1’s and the 2’s on the defensive line, and although some of the second-team players don’t have as much experience, they still have abilities. Pole said the goal is to not have a drop-off in performance when the first-team defensive line comes out of the game, and Pole said he doesn’t think there is a gap in performance between the two sets of d-linemen.

The mental toughness of the team will be important as well, Pole said, and that seemed exemplified when Williams said that the team could be playing the Seattle Seahawks this week, and it wouldn’t matter.

In a light-hearted moment, Leach said he would choose John Cusack to play him in a movie if he had to make such a decision. The coach picked Cusack over his pal Matthew McConaughey because he looks more like the former.

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