A close look at the playing conditions for WSU-Stanford

BY WINNING five of their last six, Washington State has been busily making the season opening loss to Portland State but a distant memory. They'll have another opportunity Halloween night to further relegate that loss toward oblivion when they play host to Stanford -- and if they can overcome one additional thing: the weather.

Washington State looked cold, wet and miserable in the season opener, and they played exactly how they looked. Back on Sept. 5, the game time temperature was 46 degrees. Saturday's forecast for WSU-Stanford at kickoff is a little warmer: 50 degress according to weatherunderground.com.

The chance of rain Saturday at game time, however, is 98 percent. Intriguingly, the rain chance falls to 52 percent by 9 p.m. In the Cougs' season opener, a driving rain fell a good portion of the game.

There's another potential piece of good news: it's not expected to blow as hard as it was looking earlier in the week, nor are the winds expected to be as strong as they were the first week of September (25 mph). The forecast on Saturday night in Pullman calls for 12-16 mph winds from the West-Southwest.

Ever since he arrived in Pullman, Mike Leach has scoffed at the idea rain, wind, sleet, snow or cold could have a negative effect on his team in any way. And if ever did, well that was and is wholly unacceptable.  Leach doesn't want any excuses -- that's in large part why he doesn't talk about or even acknowledge injuries (see notable note at bottom of this story). 

To sum up, for his players to lose the mental game, in any area, tastes like battery acid to Leach.

That said, in addition to the PSU game, the precipitation and wind kicked up for a time in the second half in WSU's win at Oregon. And as thrilling as that fourth-quarter comeback and overtime periods were, WSU arguably did their least impressive work, on offense, defense and special teams, when conditions were at their most adverse. So for fans and media, it's a worthy pregame discussion topic.

Cougar QB Luke Falk tends to throw the ball as it comes to him -- one of the great little nuggets that have come out this season. 'Laces?  Yeah, I don't care if I'm gripping the laces. Let's just go win, boys.' 

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But Falk might want to go the traditional route more often on a night where the football will probably be a little slippery at times.

The Cougar receiver group, including expected starters Dom Williams, Robert Lewis, River Cracraft and Gabe Marks, can't let a little weather get in their way of securing the catch, and compiling those oh-so-critical yards after the catch.

Defensively, WSU has had their issues with consistently taking the right angles and wrapping up in the best of conditions this season. Against Stanford in the rain proper defensive technique lends itself, if possible, to even more grist.

Over the last three games, WSU has vanquished some of their biggest bugaboos. Respond to adversity? Take a comeback all the way? Finish off the opponent? Settle the issue in the first half against a Pac-12 opponent? Win at home?  Check marks, all.

Winning Saturday's game against the No. 8 team in the nation -- in conditions expected to be more conducive to three yards and a splash than to a precision passing attack -- would do nicely on the Cougs' checklist.

NOTABLE NOTE:
Leach told me in Pullman last year there are two reasons he doesn't talk about injuries: First, it gives opponents a list of vulnerabilities. If a d-lineman has a balky right leg, opposing o-linemen are going to cut block him on that right knee. And then maybe you lose a guy for a game, or a season  Second and most important, he doesn’t want any excuses. “The bigger thing to me has always been the reverse message of it. ‘Okay these guys are going to be awful because so-and-so is down,’ … I don’t want to minimize the backup who is going to play for that guy. The mentality needs to be that it doesn’t matter who plays -- we’re going to go out there and play well,” said Leach.


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