OK, so a few warts have surfaced. Griffin Garske isn’t Troy Aikman or Steve Young. Heck, he might not even be Harry Leons - yet.
But Eastern Washington coach Mike Kramer loves his redshirt freshman quarterback just the same. And he can’t wait to see where the 6-foot-4, 217-pound Mead High School product takes his Eagles from here.
“When you watch him throw early in the ballgame and he’s wild high, you still know that in time - with a little more maturity and experience - he’s just going to be magnificent,” Kramer said of Garske, who was prematurely shoved into a starting role three weeks ago when Leons, a junior, suffered an apparent season- ending knee injury in a 20-13 victory over Montana State.
“He really has some strong gifts, but he’s also still maturing into the kind of calm, cool quarterback he’s going to need to be.”
Garske, who has been touted as Eastern’s quarterback of the future ever since he reneged on the letter of intent he signed with Utah State out of high school, has made some humbling mistakes in his first two starts.
The biggest came in last Saturday’s 34-30 homecoming loss to No. 2-ranked Montana, when he stared down his intended receiver long enough for Grizzlies free safety Blaine McElmurry to sprint out of deep zone coverage, make the interception and return it 44 yards for a touchdown that gave UM its first lead of the day.
“He stared so long at the receiver that the free safety came from almost 15 or 16 yards deep,” Kramer recalled. “He (McElmurry) wasn’t even really in Griffin’s read on that play.”
In Garske’s defense, Kramer said he recognized the blitz, made the proper check and threw the ball in the right area.
“It just took him too long to make his play read against that blitz type of coverage,” Kramer added.
Still, the Eagles (5-2 overall, 2-2 in the Big Sky Conference) have won two of the three games Garske has started and come into today’s 1 p.m. Holt Arena matchup against Idaho State (3-3, 1-2), ranked 22nd among Division I-AA schools.
In addition, they are still very much in the middle of the postseason playoff picture and just one win away from giving Kramer his first winning season in his three years as a collegiate head coach.
Garske, who has completed 42 of 95 passes for 696 yards and seven touchdowns, admits there has been no shortage of learning opportunities.
“The toughest thing has been having to learn all of the different defenses,” he explained. “They’re a lot more complex at this level than they were in high school.”
It’s homecoming for Idaho State, which comes off a bye week hoping to stretch its winning streak over EWU to three… . Kramer said he is “99 percent certain” that Leons, who quarterbacked the Eagles to a 4-1 record before rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, will not return this season… . Senior Scott Bond, a former scholarship player who was talked into returning to the team after Leons was injured, is progressing well, according to Kramer, and remains the No. 2 quarterback… . Jason Lewis, a freshman walk-on from Mead, was cleared academically last week by the NCAA, but Kramer said it would take “a catastrophe of major proportions for us to use Jason at this point in the season.” … ISU has lost All-American running back Alfredo Anderson (broken ankle) and his backup, Kennedy Nkeyasen (broken foot), to season-ending injuries… . In addition, starting quarterback Gary Anderson is still hampered by a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the Bengals’ 43-19 loss to Montana two weeks ago… . Eastern running back Joe Sewell, who missed most of the second half of the Montana game with a sprained ankle, is expected to start today.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Eables at Idaho State
MEMO: Changed in the Spokane edition
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