Cal Poly promises to bring a punishing ground game to Roos Field today.
No problem, Eastern Washington linebacker Ronnie Hamlin said.
“I love to play the run, so bring it on,” said Hamlin, whose defensive teammates will confront the Mustangs’ seldom-seen triple option in a high-stakes football matchup this afternoon.
How they react – or overreact – will go far in deciding which team still has a chance to host a game in the FCS playoffs – or qualify at all.
The loser of today’s sold-out nonconference game, especially if it’s Eastern, probably will need to win its final two games to even make the 20-team field.
The seventh-ranked Eagles, 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the Big Sky after an upset loss at Southern Utah, close out the season at home against UC Davis and at Portland State.
No. 16 Cal Poly (7-1, 5-1) lost its first game of the year last weekend at Sacramento State, and still must play first-place Northern Arizona in the last game of the regular season.
“It was really frustrating for us,” Cal Poly quarterback Andre Broadous said about the loss. “We had a lot of mental mistakes. We had a lot of penalties that hurt us. It’s definitely one of those games where we definitely hurt ourselves a lot.”
That included three fumbles, two of them lost. The Eagles aren’t expecting a repeat against a disciplined offense that ranks third in the 122-team FCS in rushing offense with 322 yards per game. Cal Poly has also forced opponents to respect a passing attack that ranks last in the conference in yards (57 per game) but has torched over-eager defensive backs for 12 touchdowns.
“That secondary has got to be really disciplined with their eyes, and if they’re in a man situation, they’ve got to take care of their man,” Eastern defensive coordinator John Graham said. “That comes from discipline more than anything else.”
The Eagles’ front seven will be kept busy at the point of attack, but defensive end Paul Ena promises to try to “outphysical them, just get after them in the run game. … It’s different (from most offenses), but it’s a lot of fun.”
On the other side of the ball, the Mustangs’ defense is predictably tough against the run, yielding 127.8 yards per game – third best in the Big Sky.
“They know exactly who they are,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said. “They play more base than some of the other defenses we see, but they know their responsibilities.”
Baldwin plans to start Vernon Adams at quarterback, but expects Kyle Padron to see plenty of action, similar to the scenario of the past two games against Sacramento State and Southern Utah. Padron passed for more yards in both games than Adams, even in relief.
For the season, Adams is 84 of 133 (63.2 percent) for 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Padron is 86 of 159 (54.1 percent) for seven TDs and four picks.
Today’s game goes as a nonconference matchup because it was scheduled two years ago, before Cal Poly joined the Big Sky.
Eastern Washington leads the overall series 3-2.