Cougars would like to play with EWU’s zest

Washington State safety Deone Bucannon said the Cougars hope to avoid one-on-one matchups with EWU's receivers. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Washington State safety Deone Bucannon said the Cougars hope to avoid one-on-one matchups with EWU's receivers. (Tyler Tjomsland)

PULLMAN – The team on the video screen had plenty of energy. They “flew around,” as coaches like to say. And they certainly weren’t pouting.

So Mike Leach noted to his Washington State players during film study that this is what they should look like, too – like Eastern Washington, the Cougars’ opponent at noon today when they play in the newly renovated Martin Stadium for the first time this season.

“As Coach Leach put it, this is how we want to play,” quarterback Jeff Tuel said. “This is how we should have played Thursday.”

They didn’t, and lost 30-6 to Brigham Young because of it. Leach has spent the week emphasizing mental toughness and positive body language, two things he felt his team lacked last week.

Eastern (1-0), meanwhile, thrashed Idaho 20-3 in the Kibbie Dome.

“They’re definitely a respectable team and you can’t overlook these guys,” Tuel said.

There’s also the matter of preparing for Eastern’s passing attack, which led the FCS division last season with 386.4 yards per game and isn’t expected to suffer much of a drop-off with another experienced quarterback at the helm and three tall, talented receivers.

The Eagles weren’t lights out, exactly, in their 20-3 win over Idaho last week. Quarterback Kyle Padron, a Southern Methodist transfer, completed just 13 of 33 passes in his first game as EWU’s starter, though his receivers dropped several balls and he still threw for 260 yards.

WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske is plenty familiar with EWU’s offense. As Montana’s defensive coordinator last season, Breske helped lead the Grizzlies to a 17-14 win over EWU.

Breske said the Eagles run their offense out of a “10 personnel” base, employing four wide receivers in an attempt to spread the field and distribute the ball to different players, similar to Leach’s offensive style.

Receivers Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd (6-foot-3) each tallied more than 1,000 receiving yards last season, and with the 6-5 Brandon Kaufman returning from injury this season, EWU possesses more size at receiver than most Pac-12 teams.

“I think that’s the strength of their offense,” Breske said. “Great size and great athleticism, and it’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us.”

“We’re not trying to have too many one-on-one matchups,” WSU safety Deone Bucannon said. “We’re trying to help our corners out as much as we possibly can, so we can brace for that to defend them.”

As season openers go, these two teams couldn’t have had more different results. The Eagles not only beat Idaho – an FBS team, for now, at least – they completely dominated them. And the Cougars looked out of sorts for much of last week’s loss to BYU.

For that reason – and because EWU has proven in the past that it can compete with Pac-12 teams, evidenced by a 30-27 loss at Washington last season – WSU is hyper-focused on execution this week.

“I don’t think it’s an accident that they’ve had all the success in the past that they have,” said Leach, whose Texas Tech team defeated EWU 49-24 in 2008. “I think they do a lot of good things right and they have for a long time.”

A school spokesman said the game is a sellout, the first one since the Cougars hosted Arizona State on Oct. 6, 2007. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new premium seating and press box structure will be held at 8:30 a.m.

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