Zach Bruce didn’t feel the pressure of last week’s big game; there was no time.
“It was definitely exciting,” said Bruce, a redshirt freshman from University High School who saw his first significant action of the season on defense in Eastern Washington’s 42-37 win at Montana.
With starting safety Allen Brown and top backup Todd Raynes both felled by hamstring injuries, it fell to Bruce to help preserve the third-ranked Eagles’ ever-shrinking lead in the biggest game of the year so far.
“It was a chance to use what I’ve learned from the coaches and the senior leadership from (safeties) Brown and Tevin (McDonald),” said Bruce, who finished with six tackles while still playing on special teams.
Said safeties coach Jeff Schmedding: “I thought Zach coming off the bench did a pretty good job, to be in a game of that magnitude.”
With Brown listed as doubtful and Raynes unable to play at all, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Bruce will do it again Saturday at Idaho State, one of the most pass-heavy teams in the Big Sky Conference.
So will some of the other defensive backs. Junior safety Isaiah Jenkins also figures to see more playing time while Brown and Raynes recuperate, and redshirt sophomore cornerback Miles Weatheroy will see action in nickel coverage.
“It’s more opportunity for us as a secondary,” Weatheroy of the Bengals (3-4 overall, 1-4 Big Sky), who have gained 2,600 yards through the air and just 596 on the ground. Idaho State quarterback Justin Arias has completed 223 passes in 391 attempts, with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The other safety position is in the hands of junior Tevin McDonald, the transfer from UCLA who’s suddenly a father-figure. “I know coach Schmedding wants me to take more of a leadership role,” said McDonald, who also had six tackles at Montana.
Coach Beau Baldwin said that in hindsight, both the coaches and players could have done a better job in the fourth quarter at Montana, where a 25-point fourth-quarter lead shrank to five before the Eagles recovered an onside kick with 1:44 to play. “I just want to see us finding ways to make sure that subconsciously, you’re not going to lay off the gas pedal. It’s a fine line, but you’ve got to stay in attack mode a little longer.” … In addition to Brown and Raynes, the Eagles may be without two other defensive starters. NT Will Katoa (knee) and LB J.C. Agen (quad) are both listed as doubtful for ISU. RBs Jabari Wilson and Jalen Moore are both ready to play after missing severfal weeks.