On paper, it looks like Weber State could toss Eastern Washington University’s defense a change-of-pace pitch Saturday afternoon when the two Big Sky Conference football rivals square off at 12:35 at Roos Field.
But John Graham, Eastern’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator, warns against reading too much into the early-season numbers of Wildcats quarterback Mike Hoke, who leads the Big Sky with a pass efficiency rating of 160.0 after completing 76 of 119 his passes (63.9 percent) for 930 yards and 11 touchdowns, without throwing an interception.
“I don’t know if he’s a lot different than the kids we’ve played so far,” said Graham, whose defense has had to deal with nimble, fleet-footed quarterbacks in each of its first four games. “He’s a big, physical kid, who likes to run, too.
“Weber is a run-first team. That’s what they do, and they do it well. And anytime you can do that, it’s going to make your passing game that much more efficient.”
Hoke, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior and two-year letterwinner, was a backup to Cameron Higgins last fall, but he has seemed to slip comfortably into his new role as a starter. In last Saturday’s 45-21 road win over Northern Colorado, he threw for 280 yards and a career-high five touchdowns.
Yet Graham is building his defensive game plan around the ability of the Wildcats (2-2 overall, 2-0 BCS) to run the football – like they finally got around to doing in their surprisingly easy 49-17 win over Sacramento State on Sept. 17, when they torched the Hornets for 324 rushing yards.
“They’re making more of a commitment to the run than they did last year,” he said. “Like against Sac, they were trying to spread it out and be kind of cute at first. But then they got into two tight end and two backs, and on like 25 straight plays they ran the ball.
“It was impressive.”
And with Eastern (0-4, 0-2) ranked last in the Big Sky in rushing defense (229.2 yards per game), Graham expects WSU to take a similar approach.
Powers on the mend
After tearing the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knew during last Saturday’s 36-21 loss to Montana State, Eastern Washington’s senior center Chris Powers said in a postgame interview that he only expected to miss two or three weeks.
And according to EWU’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Aaron Best, Powers might have been right.
“If he gets on the plane (to Northern Arizona) next week, he’ll probably be used only in an emergency situation,” Best said of the 6-2, 285-pound Powers, who will not play against Weber State on Saturday. “I’d love to have him get 30 or 40 snaps in that game, but looking at that Oct. 15 game (against Northern Colorado), when we come back home, is probably more reasonable.
“But it’s going to be his call, because I respect the hell out of seniors. You put up with me for four years, then you call the shots, and I mean that. It’s hard enough to play his position, without all the demands I put on the guy.”
Eastern Washington dropped out of the top 25 in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS poll this week for the first time since Oct. 26, 2009.
The Eagles also slipped out of the top 25 in the FCS Coaches’ poll, but the Big Sky remained well-represented in the ratings.
Montana State remained No. 4 and Sacramento State slipped back in at No. 25 in both polls. Montana checked in at No. 16 in the FCS coaches’ poll and No. 19 in the TSN/Fathead.com top 25.
Eastern Washington is the first defending national champion to start the season 0-4 since Southern Illinois in 1984. … Portland State place-kicker Zach Brown has made a school-record 10 straight field goals. … Defensive end Blayne Anderson was credited with three of Northern Arizona’s 10 sacks in last Saturday’s 20-3 win over Idaho State, as the Lumberjacks tied an NCAA single-game record dating to 2000 when sacks were first recognized as an official NCAA statistic.