As so-called “trap” games go, this one doesn’t have a lot of teeth.
In other words, Idaho State may be in the right spot on the Eastern Washington football schedule, but that alone probably isn’t enough to upset the Eagles in today’s Big Sky Conference game in Pocatello.
Third-ranked Eastern (6-2 overall and 4-0 in the Big Sky) is coming off an emotional win last weekend at Montana, and may be looking ahead to next week’s showdown with Montana State, but coach Beau Baldwin already has his players primed for the improving Bengals (3-5, 1-4).
“You can see it in all facets of their game, and that says a lot about the development they have made,” Baldwin said of Idaho State. “It’s going to be war.”
If so, the Eagles have the better weapons, starting with quarterback Vernon Adams, the top-rated quarterback in FCS, who threw for a career-best 457 yards and a school record-tying six touchdowns in the 42-37 win over the Grizzlies.
Freshman receiving sensation Cooper Kupp, a Jerry Rice Award candidate, caught 11 more balls for 182 yards and two touchdowns against Montana, upping his season total to 44 catches for 777 yards and a national-best 11 touchdowns. Adams’ other major target, senior Ashton Clark, also has 44 catches, for 684 yards and seven scores.
The Bengals counter with a pass-happy offense led by quarterback Justin Arias, who’s completed 223 of 391 passes for 2,598 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. More than 80 percent of the ISU offense comes through the air.
That’s a bigger challenge now that the Eagles are without backup safety Todd Raynes and perhaps starter Allen Brown, who’s listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury.
On the other side of the ball, the Idaho State defense has come a long way since last year, giving up just 28 points a game in Big Sky play compared with 58 last year.
“Defensively they are playing so much better as a group,” Baldwin said. “They are sound in what they do … and their defense has made leaps and bounds in terms of what they are doing schematically.”
However, the Bengals are doing in against the easiest schedule in the Big Sky, as they miss both Montana schools and Cal Poly, and they haven’t faced an elite offense since losing 56-0 at Washington in September. Two of the Bengals’ wins are against Division II opposition; the third is against Northern Colorado (1-7, 0-4).
To help avoid a letdown, Baldwin said he’ll lean on the veterans, who’ll do the same to the younger players as the season moves into its third month.
“There’s no time to be young anymore,” Baldwin said.