Eastern takes on big task against No. 25 Beavers

Eastern wide receiver Ashton Clark says Oregon State has some vulnerabilities. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Eastern wide receiver Ashton Clark says Oregon State has some vulnerabilities. (Tyler Tjomsland)

CORVALLIS – They call it a walkthrough, but the Eastern Washington players and coaches moved at a much slower pace during their hour-long session Friday evening at Reser Stadium.

This was a stroll-through, efficient and deliberate – all the better to pick up a few more clues on how to knock off 25th-ranked Oregon State this afternoon.

After all, film reveals only so much, although Eagles on both sides of the ball figure they have a few ideas. While everybody else sees a highly decorated Oregon State secondary, Eastern wide receiver Ashton Clark sees a few weaknesses.

“Everybody has a spot to go after, and I think they have some spots,” Clark said earlier this week, without going in to detail.

On the other side of the ball, Eagles cornerback T.J. Lee III sees some advantages in his matchup with OSU receiver Brandin Cooks, who went off for 1,151 yards last year. What advantages? He’s not saying.

On paper, this is the toughest game the Eagles will face this season. Last year, the Beavers were one the most improved teams in FBS, going 6-3 in the Pac-12 and 9-4 overall after a 31-27 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl. With 16 returning starters, Oregon State figures to be that good again, and will be backed by a crowd of more than 40,000 fans.

“Luckily, we have some veterans who have been part of our games at the University of Washington and WSU,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said. “Younger players who have not been a part of that can lean on the older guys to see how they are reacting to every situation.”

One of the veterans is offensive lineman Brandon Murphy, whose West Albany team won the Oregon Class 5A title on this field. He visualized playing here in college – in orange and black. “But the coaching staff here felt otherwise,” said Murphy, a senior guard, after the long bus ride from Cheney.

“Now I can’t wait to win on this field,” Murphy said.

Likewise, Eastern tight end Jake Withnell grew up in a family of Beavers season-ticket holders. “It’s awesome coming back, and most of my family and friends from high school will be here.

“Winning, that would be icing on top of that,” Withnell said.

Today’s game could be decided in three key matchups:

• The Oregon State secondary’s ability to hold coverage on short to medium routes while Eastern quarterback Vernon Adams decides to scramble and tries to extend plays.

“It’s definitely very valuable for us,” Clark said. “It makes it tougher for DBs to cover us for seven seconds instead of four. “We’re always thinking scramble drill.”

That may not be true for the coaches, who hope to keep the Beavers pass rush at bay with some semblance of a running game. The zone read offense is designed to spread the field, allowing Adams to scramble from choice instead of necessity.

“I just have to be smart about where I put the ball, and play my game,” Adams said.

• Eastern’s veteran offensive line keep the running game respectable against a Beavers defensive line that’s more athletic than beefy.

The Beavers’ defensive tackles are lighter than their Eastern counterparts Andru Pulu and Will Katoa, but junior ends Scott Crichton (6-foot-3, 265 pounds) and Dylan Wynn (6-2, 260) are among the best in college football.

Crichton, a preseason All-America candidate, is “relentless,” said Aaron Best, the Eagles’ offensive line coach. “He’s a great player, and the accolades are well-earned.”

Eastern counters with a veteran offensive line that averages just over 300 pounds. At least one of them has been here before.

“A few guys have asked me about this game,” said right guard Jake Rodgers, who started all 12 games on the WSU offensive line last season. “It’s a lot like playing against our defense: they’re physical, and they play hard.”

• The Eagles’ ability to match up against a banged-up OSU offensive line and slow down the run without conceding play-action passes.

Last season, OSU running back Storm Woods rushed for 940 yards and almost 5 yards a carry, but injuries and illness have forced Beavers coach Mike Riley to shuffle his lineup. On the other hand, the Eagles have some depth issues at linebacker, so this may be an intriguing matchup if the Beavers – as expected – try to play smash-mouth football.

“Coach Riley has instilled such a good stability and toughness to them, that they’ve been able to establish the run first and set up the rest of their offense,” Baldwin said.

“And that makes them difficult to defend.”

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