Eastern Washington’s defense has dealt with its share of option offenses this fall.
But the one the Eagles (4-5) will face in Saturday’s 6 p.m. nonconference game against Cal Poly (5-4) in San Luis Obispo, Calif., is a whole different animal than the popular “pistol” variety used by many teams.
“It’s strictly old-school,” Eastern’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator John Graham said of the Mustangs’ spread option, which often features a full-house backfield with a fullback and two slotbacks. “And it starts with their fullback.
“They like to establish him early and often.”
Cal Poly’s fullback is Jake Romanelli, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound beast, who has rushed for a team-high 787 yards and six touchdowns, while averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
“He lines up 4 yards behind the quarterback and just goes,” Graham said of Romanelli, who has lost only 2 yards on his 169 carries. “He’s big, he’s strong, he runs at a good pad level and just goes downhill.
“He’s going to be another major challenge for our defense.”
The Mustangs have some other nice options in junior quarterback Andre Broadous, who has rushed for 666 yards and team-high 14 touchdowns, and slotbacks Mark Rodgers and Deonte Williams, who have combined for 738 rushing yards and three TDs.
Eastern, which is coming off a bye week following its 43-26 home loss to Portland State on Oct. 29, had hoped to use the time off to get some key players healthy. But Graham said senior defensive tackle Renard Williams, who missed the PSU game with a sprained ankle, remains doubtful for Saturday. Junior defensive tackle Evan Cook, who has been hampered by neck and ankle injuries, won’t make the trip.
Sophomore Will Katoa will start again at Williams’ tackle spot, but redshirt freshman Dylan Zylstra will also see a lot of action on the defensive front, Graham said.
“That’s just kind of where we’re at right now,” Graham said of the injury situation that has plagued the Eagles throughout the season. “But it still starts with whatever four guys we have up front, because they’re going to have to match the intensity of (Cal Poly’s) offensive linemen, who are physical and who can really get off the ball.”
Bobcats, Grizzlies rest
Montana State (9-1 overall, 7-0 Big Sky Conference), which is ranked No. 2 in The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 and FCS Coaches’ Poll, and arch rival Montana (8-2, 6-1), which is seventh in the coaches’ poll and eighth in the TSN/Fathead.com ratings, are idle this week.
That means the Bobcats and Grizzlies should both be well prepared for their Nov. 19 game in Bozeman that will determine the Big Sky’s automatic berth in the FCS playoffs.
There is a good chance the loser of that game will still get an at-large playoff bid.
Portland State (6-3, 4-2), which could secure a solo third-place finish in the Big Sky by beating winless Northern Colorado on Saturday and Weber State on Nov. 19, also has an outside chance of making the playoffs. The Vikings’ two conference defeats came at home against Montana State (38-36) and on the road against Montana (30-24).
Montana State has back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time in school history. … Montana’s Brody McKnight set a school record with six field goals in the Grizzlies’ 32-7 win over Western Oregon last weekend and became the first Big Sky kicker to accomplish such a feat since Mickey Penaflor did it for Northern Arizona in 1988. … Eastern Washington senior Bo Levi Mitchell is ranked No. 2 among FCS quarterbacks in total offense with an average of 346.1 yards per game. … Idaho State wide receiver Rodrick Rumble continues to lead the nation in receptions with an average of 10.9 per game.