FROM PULLMAN -- We like to ask five questions of a reporter who covers WSU's opponent each week. And we weren't going to be stopped this week by the fact that Jim Allen, the primary beat reporter for Eastern Washington, is a colleague and an S-R employee. To give some perspective on the Eagles, Jim stopped by to answer some questions. Read on.
1. We keep hearing that Eastern's win over Idaho could have been a lot worse than it was. How so?
"While the defense was outstanding, the Eastern passing game sputtered for 2 ½ quarters with numerous false-start penalties. Also, new quarterback Kyle Padron wasn’t quite in sync with his receivers, throwing a few balls that were just a tad long."
2. What does Kyle Padron add at quarterback?
Padron has a big arm, poise in the pocket and 21 starts for an FBS program at Southern Methodist. Facing WSU isn’t a problem, since two years ago in Dallas, he torched the Cougars for four touchdowns and 280 yards. He’s also fit seamlessly on the Eastern team, a very likable kid. One more thing: take a good luck at his stats Thursday compared with those of Jeff Tuel. Padron was 13-for-33-260 yards while Tuel was 30-for-45-229 yards, but Padron had almost eight yards per pass attempt while Tuel had just 5.1.That’s the first stat I look at when assessing a QB’s game performance, and that’s where Padron is outstanding: He isn’t the least bit gun-shy.
3. Is this one of those games that EWU has had circled for a while?
"If you ask the players, coaches and fans, they’ll tell you that conference games are the must-wins. Even Kyle Padron, when asked that very question, said “Beat Montana, that’s a must.” I think an even bigger game is the Oct. 13 date at Big Sky Conference favorite Montana State, a team that’s roughed up the Eagles two years running. That said, the Eagles have a bye after playing the Cougs, so they will leave it all on the field Saturday, unlike last year’s 30-27 heartbreaker at Washington. With so many of the EWU players from the Puget Sound area with something to prove against a Husky program that didn’t recruit them, that game was tough to recover from. But win or lose against WSU, the Eagles should move on seamlessly into the bye week and conference play."
4. What are EWU's expectations this season?
"Besides 'beating Montana,' of course, the Eagle players and fans expect to reach the FCS playoffs and make a deep run there. Anything less would be a big disappointment. Winning the Big Sky is also huge. Did I mention beating Montana? Before the season, I picked this team to go 8-3, finish in the top three in the Big Sky and perhaps make some noise in the the playoffs. Before the season, I figured probable losses at WSU and Montana State, with tough games against Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Cal Poly. Now I’m thinking 9-2 is more likely. The players figure they can win them all, of course, but I was struck after the Idaho game that the players were very even-keeled about the whole thing. I think the biggest trap game is the opener at Weber State on Sept. 22, because the next week is the home opener against, that’s right: Montana."
5. Are there any weaknesses you think a Pac-12 team should be able to take advantage of?
"Great question, since this is a solid team that does almost everything well by FCS standards, and even by lower-tier FBS standards. I see their weaknesses as 1) lack of balance on offense – this was the most pass-heavy team in FCS last year, with 73 percent of the yards coming through the air. This was an emphasis in both spring and fall camp, with more two-tight end sets, but it’s too early to tell if the running game will click. I also wonder about short-yardage situations. The Idaho game was a bit misleading, because the rushing yards came only after Eastern had a two-touchdown lead and the Vandal defenders were still focused on stopping the pass. 2) The offensive line – injuries here helped unravel the 2011 season, but there’s plenty of depth, but Padron is working with a new center and a new left tackle, so pass protection is an issue – in fact, the Vandal D-line had the better of it for much of the game. 3) Defending the long ball – The secondary is talented and experienced, but was tested by the Vandals, who completed a 66-yarder and just missed on two other long balls. And that’s my key to the game - too many Pac-12 and other FBS teams figure they can dial down their offense and still get by against teams like Eastern. That won’t be true Saturday, since Eastern’s defense does a great job keeping the play in front of them against a vanilla offense. The Cougs will have to throw the deep ball, and not just on third-and-long."
Jim Allen can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @srjimallen