EWU takes on physical ’Cats
Weber visits with run-first mentality
With its ranks already thinned dramatically by injuries, Eastern Washington’s winless football team is bracing for another demanding physical challenge this afternoon when Big Sky Conference leader Weber State arrives at Roos Field.
Kickoff is set for 12:35, and the Wildcats (2-2 overall, 2-0 Big Sky) are coming off back-to-back dominant performances in a 49-17 home win over then 20th-ranked Sacramento State on Sept. 17 and a 45-21 road win over Northern Colorado last Saturday.
“It absolutely doesn’t get any easier,” said EWU coach Beau Baldwin, whose Eagles (0-4, 0-2) were thumped 36-21 by Montana State in their home opener last weekend. “Weber State is playing really good football, and they’ve been playing really good football for a while now.
“They play what we like to call a great brand of ‘Big Boy Football,’ so you’ve got to find a way to get into a physical mindset, where you can handle that.”
Weber boasts the Big Sky’s most efficient quarterback in 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior Mike Hoke, who has yet to throw an interception. But the Wildcats’ offense is built around the run.
“It’s pretty much in your face what you have to do against them,” Baldwin said. “First off, you better be geared up to stop the run. They’re extremely good at running the football, and they commit to it.”
Weber leads the Big Sky in scoring offense (35.8 points per game) and total offense (447.2 yards per game) and ranks No. 2 in rushing offense (207.5 ypg).
Josh Booker, a 6-0, 215-pound sophomore, is averaging a team-high 65.2 rushing yards per game for the Wildcats, who also have a pair of talented freshmen runners in Barrinton Collins (62.0 ypg) and Tanner Hinds (45.6 ypg).
And the talented trio operates behind a big, physical front line that is anchored by a pair of seniors, left tackle Caleb Turner and left guard J.C. Oram, who were both preseason first-team all-conference selections.
Eastern, on the other hand, ranks eighth in the Big Sky in rushing, despite getting back-to-back 100-yard games by freshman Jordan Talley. The Eagles remain woefully short of healthy bodies on their injury-plagued offensive front.
Still, Weber State coach Ron McBride is convinced EWU has enough talent on both sides of the football to present major problems.
“They’ve had some really tough luck, but they’re who they are,” McBride said of the Eagles.
“They’re really good. They’re good on defense, they’re good on offense, they’ve got a good quarterback and they’ve got good receivers.
“They’ve got all the stuff you need to have. It’s just that they haven’t made a play here or play there. Its’ going to be a challenge for us to go up there and play them. Hopefully, we can keep the game interesting.”
Eastern was 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big Sky when it went to Ogden, Utah, last fall and beat Weber State 35-24 to start an 11-game winning streak that was capped by a 20-19 win over Delaware in the NCAA Division I Championship game. … WSU leads the Big Sky with a turnover margin of 1.25, while EWU is ranked last at minus-1.5. … The Wildcats lead the all-time series 15-14, but Eastern has won three of the last four meetings.