Eastern Washington University will get back to trying to defend the pass – make that many passes – when its travel to Pocatello on Saturday to take on Big Sky Conference rival Idaho State in its season finale.
Despite its yearlong struggles, ISU (2-8 overall, 1-6 Big Sky) has proven it can move the ball through the air. The biggest factor in the Bengals’ passing game has been junior wide receiver Rodrick Rumble, who has caught a school-record 98 passes for 1,224 yards and nine touchdowns.
The 6-foot-2, 201-pounder from Oak Harbor, Wash., leads all Football Championship Subdivision receivers with an average of 10.7 receptions per game and ranks third nationally with an average of 128.6 receiving yards per game.
Rumble has had the full attention of EWU’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator John Graham all week long.
“He’s gotten so much stronger than he was last year,” Graham said. “Obviously, a year in the weight room was huge for him. He can really go up and get the football now, and he has that ability to use his body to shield defenders – kind of like (Eastern’s) Brandon Kaufman, only not that big.”
Rumble, a two-year letterwinner, has been the favorite target of ISU quarterback Kevin Yost since the start of the season, and figures to get his share of touches on Saturday.
“He’s their guy,” Graham said. “They design a lot of different things to get him the football, whether it’s quick screen or short passes. They’re going to try to get him the ball 20 times, at least.”
Eastern (5-5, 4-3), which can finish with a winning record and secure at least a share of fourth place in the Big Sky standings with a win over the Bengals, is coming off a 53-51 triple-overtime road win over Cal Poly and will have to adjust from the Mustangs’ option attack to ISU’s spread passing game.
“They have, for sure, a pass-first mentality,” Graham said of the Bengals, who are in their first season under former EWU and Montana State head coach Mike Kramer. “That’s what they do, and they make no secrets about it.
“And while they’ve had some success, statistically, they’re still trying to find a win, which makes them that much more dangerous.”
Big Sky leader Montana State (9-1, 7-0), which has won nine straight games since opening the season with a 27-10 road loss to Utah, has moved into the No. 1 spot in The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 and FCS Coaches’ Poll.
The Bobcats earned 76 first-place votes to edge out No. 2 and unbeaten Sam Houston State in the TSN/Fathead.com poll, while finished just ahead of previously top-ranked and No.2 Georgia Southern in the coaches’ poll.
Montana (8-2, 6-1) remained at No. 7 in the coaches’ poll and moved up from eighth to seventh in the TSN/Fathead.com ratings.
Title game on tap
Conference-leading Montana State and archrival Montana will decide the Big Sky Conference’s automatic berth in the FCS playoffs on Saturday, when they face in Bozeman.
Top-ranked MSU can win the regular-season BSC title and clinch a playoff berth with a win, while seventh-ranked Montana can earn a share of the conference crown and assure itself of a spot in the playoffs with a victory.
Montana State has not won the Big Sky title outright since 1984. Montana has won or shared 12 straight Big Sky championships from 1998-2009.
Eastern Washington senior Bo Levi Mitchell moved into the lead among FCS quarterbacks in passing yards, passing yards per game and total offense, and needs just 388 passing yards in Saturday’s season final against Idaho State to reach the 4,000-yard mark this season. … Sacramento State’s Zack Nash had five sacks against ISU on Saturday, tying the Big Sky single-game record he had previously equaled last season when he also had five sacks against the Bengals.