Washington State linebacker Darryl Monroe tilted forward and shook his head. He smiled and waited, as if trying to avoid letting slip any bulletin board verbiage for Saturday night’s game against No. 5 Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) at CenturyLink Field (7 p.m., ESPN). Asked what he remembered from the Cougars’ 24-17 loss to the Cardinal last year in Palo Alto, the defense’s emotional leader opted for restraint Monday.
“I’d rather not dwell on the past. Let’s put it that way,” he said.
As the game clock dwindled under 30 seconds in their Oct. 27, 2012 meeting, WSU had the ball trailing seven, first-and-goal from the nine. But quarterback Jeff Tuel, attempting to avoid a sack, was called for intentionally grounding the ball, which ended the game. The Cougars felt afterward they should have won.
They’re striking a similar note in anticipation of the 11th annual Seattle Game. WSU (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) is 5-5 in the series, its latest a 51-26 setback in 2012 to Oregon at the Clink. The game was close in the first half before the Ducks issued a third-quarter drubbing.
WSU’s first three-game winning streak since 2011 has players confident in the possibility of the first 4-1 start since 2003.
“We’re built to score points,” said wide receiver Gabe Marks. In four starts, Marks has 31 catches for 348 yards and three touchdowns. He was named Tuesday to the Fred Biletnikoff Award Watch List for the nation’s best receiver and is third in the conference in receptions.
“It should be fun. They think they can stop a lot of people and we think we can score on a lot of people,” he said.
“We’ll see who’s the better man.”
They’ll do it at the home of the Seahawks. WSU’s annual wet-side game is liked by some, loathed by others but played because the Cougars gross up to $2 million from the increased gate that accompanies playing at the 67,000-seat venue. An under-renovation Martin Stadium holds only 31,700.
“I’ll play wherever,” Monroe said. “I’ll play in a desert if they told us we had to.”
When asked if he minded making the nearly five-hour drive to play a “home” game, Leach was comparably diplomatic.
“Always Martin just because it’s our house,” he said of his preferred playing spot. “But CenturyLink’s great. It’s a good change-up and it’s exciting to go there. We have an opportunity to play Stanford there so that’s a heckuva deal.”
In terms of talent and athleticism, coach David Shaw’s team is a steep uptick compared to WSU’s previous two opponents, Idaho and Southern Utah. Stanford’s deep offensive line has Leach most concerned.
“The biggest thing you notice about Stanford is their size and strength,” he said.
A former Central Washington walk-on with a name that sounds straight from “Lion King” is leading the Cougars in rushing touchdowns. Jeremiah Laufasa, a sophomore from Kirkland, has established a niche as WSU’s goal-line back thanks to an off-season trim-down in the weight room. Laufasa had six carries for 41 yards and two touchdowns against the Vandals. He is averaging five yards per carry (13 runs for 65 yards) with four scores, two of which came in the season opener against Auburn.
“He was thicker and stiffer last year. He’s always been a weight-room guy. I think he’s every bit as strong but he’s lost some weight and he’s quicker,” Leach said of the five-foot-10, 208-pound Laufasa. “He just brings a lot of power when he runs the ball.
“There’s not anybody who’s improved more in one year than Laufasa.”
What’s your deal? (Pullman style)
Leach’s post-game confrontation Saturday in which he lobbed a few obscenities toward Idaho coach Paul Petrino drew the type of media attention Leach has avoided for most of this season. Leach said Monday that (a) he didn’t know what Petrino was mad about and (b) the rumor that the coach has a house near to Leach is indeed true. They aren’t next-door neighbors, but they do live on the same street, Leach said.
Most assumed Petrino, who was petulant on the sideline throughout his 42-point loss, was irked when Leach re-entered a few starters in the final seconds of regulation. Idaho was inside the five-yard line, and Leach wanted the shutout. The Vandals went for it on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard-line but were stopped short. It was the Cougars’ first shutout in a decade.
“I don’t know (Petrino),” Leach said. “A lot of the guys in the business I know but I don’t really know him. I have no idea what he’s upset about and I don’t care. And if I did know, which I don’t, I wouldn’t share it with you. So next question.”