September 4, 2008 in Sports

EWU has chance to shock Colorado

So says ESPN The Magazine
By The Spokesman-Review

Saturday: EWU at Colorado

12:30 p.m.

Radio: 1510-AM

In a recent edition of ESPN The Magazine, writer Jeff Dooley took a look at the four Football Championship Subdivision schools with a chance to become this year’s Appalachian State by waylaying a more prestigious Football Bowl Subdivision team, as the Mountaineers did in 2007 when they went into Michigan Stadium and stunned the Wolverines 34-32.

Among the four was Eastern Washington University, which Dooley suggested has a decent shot at upsetting the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo., on Saturday.

Several of Eastern’s players read the article, and prior to Wednesday afternoon’s practice in preparation for their 12:30 p.m. game against the Buffaloes, a couple of them responded to it.

“I’ve seen it,” junior free safety Kevin Hatch said of the article. “It’s just on paper, so we don’t read too much into it. But we, as a team, strongly believe this is going to be a big opportunity for us, on Saturday, to go down there and make a statement and beat them.”

Junior quarterback Matt Nichols wasn’t about to predict an upset win over CU, but insisted anyone writing the Eagles off is making a big mistake – especially in the wake of the way he and his teammates hung with 12th-ranked Texas Tech, 49-24, in Lubbock, Texas, last Saturday, despite spotting the Red Raiders an early 21-0 lead.

“Appy State wasn’t the only I-AA (now FCS) team to beat a I-A (now FBS) team last year,” Nichols pointed out. “North Dakota beat Minnesota, and just last weekend, Cal Poly beat San Diego State. So I think I-AA is catching up a little bit, and if any I-A team doesn’t think we can beat them, that probably isn’t the best mindset for them to have – thinking they’re going to walk all over a I-AA – going into a game.

“Texas Tech thought they were going to do that last week, and didn’t.”

Big money weekend

Six of the eight Big Sky teams in action Saturday will be playing on the road against teams from the NCAA FCS in what are guaranteed money games against the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I) bullies that can often times be detrimental to your health.

Along with Eastern’s matchup against Colorado, Montana State is at Kansas State, Northern Colorado is at Purdue, Sacramento State is at Colorado State, Weber State is at Hawaii and Idaho State is at Idaho.

EWU and Northern Arizona both opened their seasons last week against FBS opponents. Both schools remained competitive in their games and – even more important, perhaps – got out of town without sustaining any serious injuries to key personnel.

In other games involving Big Sky schools, Montana is at Cal Poly and Northern Arizona entertains New Mexico Highlands.

Tough opener for Griz

While it won’t be one of those teams playing an FBS opponent Saturday, fifth-ranked Montana – the preseason favorite of Big Sky coaches and media members to win another conference title – figures to get all it can handle in its season opener against 11th-ranked Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Cal Poly returns 10 starters from last year’s team, which led the FCS in total offense. The Mustangs opened their season last weekend by knocking off San Diego State, an FBS school, 29-27.

“If we didn’t know before the game that we have our hands full this weekend, we sure do now,” Grizzlies coach Bobby Hauck told the Missoulian earlier this week. “They went up and down the field (against SDSU), as they have on just about everybody the last couple of years. I don’t know. If we’re not scared, maybe we should be.”

Still, the Grizzlies lead the all-time series 11-1.

MSU faces ‘beast’

The main task facing Montana State on Saturday will be coming up with a way to deal with Kansas State’s junior quarterback Josh Freeman, a 6-foot-6, 250-pounder, who was named the Big 12 Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 232 yards and three touchdowns and running for two more scores in last Saturday’s 45-6 season-opening rout of North Texas.

“He’s a beast,” MSU safety Jeff Brown told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle this week. “He throws on the run well. I saw one play where he was on the opposite side of the field and it seemed like he just flicked it, and the ball went, like, 40 yards. I was, like, ‘Wow!’ ”

Added Bobcats head coach Bob Ash: “One of the coaches on our staff who has seen him in person said he’s one of the best-looking tight ends he’d ever seen. Unfortunately, he’s playing quarterback.”

QB mystery solved at NAU

Northern Arizona’s head coach Jerome Souers kept his choice of a starting quarterback for last Saturday’s season opener at Arizona State a secret until late in the week. That isn’t the case, however, heading into this weekend’s home opener against Division II New Mexico Highlands.

Souers told the Arizona Daily Sun on Tuesday that senior Lance Kriesien, who started against ASU and completed 17 of 31 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown in a 30-13 loss, will start again Saturday.

“I think Lance managed the game the way that we needed to,” Souers said of the 6-3, 241-pounder from Houston. “There wasn’t a pattern of poor communication or indecision. I thought we were really assertive in the things that we wanted to do.

“We really worked on that, and that was important to us. And I thought the quarterback play reflected that.”

Quick kicks

Montana has put together 22 consecutive winning seasons dating back to 1986. … Cal Poly, UM’s opponent on Saturday, has won 13 of the last 16 games it has played against Big Sky teams… . Western Oregon and Portland State combined for 38 penalties and 302 penalty yards in last Saturday’s non-conference season opener that was won by PSU 31-14. … After throwing for 335 yards and a touchdown in last Saturday’s loss to Texas Tech, Eastern Washington’s junior quarterback Matt Nichols has seven 300 yard-plus passing games in his career. … Twin brothers Matt and Zach Johnson, who are both redshirt freshmen, made their starting debuts on EWU’s defense against Tech and combined for 18 tackles. Zach, a linebacker, finished with a team-high 10 tackles, while Matt, a strong safety, finished with eight tackles and three passes broken up.

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