Four days before game day, Evan Day’s ears already were pinned back.
“I always look forward to games like this,” the Eastern Washington defensive end said Tuesday as the Eagles prepared for Idaho State’s pass-heavy offense.
The Eagles’ pass rush is hitting its stride at the right time, with 10 sacks in the last three games, including Day’s third-down takedown of Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson last weekend.
Eastern will need it this week in a game that looks more competitive than it did in August, especially with Eastern facing some injuries in the secondary. Starting safety Allen Brown is doubtful this week with a hamstring injury, and backup Todd Raynes is out of the lineup with the same injury.
The Bengals, who won three games in the previous two seasons combined, have that many already, including a 40-26 win over Northern Colorado on Oct. 12 that snapped a 19-game losing streak in Big Sky Conference games. They love to throw the football, getting 2,600 of their 3,156 yards of offense through the air.
“They’re very dynamic in the passing game and have an added dimension in the running attack,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said, referencing an 83-yard effort against Northern Colorado.
ISU coach Mike Kramer disagreed with that assessment Wednesday, saying the running game has “evaporated” in the last two games.
The Bengals had 44 rushing yards in a 39-30 loss at Northern Arizona but were stuffed completely in a 19-9 defeat against Southern Utah. That game netted all of 13 yards on 12 carries.
What bothers Kramer even more is a run of dropped passes in the last two games.
“We’re having a hard time catching the ball,” said Kramer, the head coach at Eastern Washington from 1994-99. “That’s the one thing you’ll notice about the Eastern Washington receivers: They don’t drop passes.”
The Bengals’ biggest improvement has come on defense. Last year, the Bengals (3-4, 1-4 Big Sky) gave up at least 50 points in seven of eight in conference. This year, with a revamped staff, they’ve been outscored only 142-117.
“The biggest difference is that they’re playing as 11 guys,” Baldwin said. “In the past, maybe they had some guys who maybe were playing out of position at times.”
EWU quarterback Adams piles up the big numbers
After throwing for a career-high 457 yards and six touchdowns last week at Montana, Eastern quarterback Vernon Adams’ season stats look even gaudier.
Though eight games, Adams has 30 touchdown passes – well on the way to breaking the school record of 37 set by Bo Levi Mitchell in 2010 – and leads the nation in pass efficiency at 187.5. He is completing 67.3 percent of his passes for 2,646 yards.
Baldwin sees beyond the stats.
“Everyone sees the athleticism, but they don’t always see the guts and the toughness,” Baldwin said, recalling two of Adams’ TD passes at Montana.
As fans marveled at an 86-yard pass to Shaquille Hill, they didn’t see that Adams was leveled as he threw the pass. Later, Adams chose to scramble up the middle, evading two fast-closing defenders before hitting Ashton Clark for another score.
Ferris High Bengals make their mark in Pocatello
Kramer’s ties to Spokane have paid dividends in recruiting, especially at Ferris High.
Four former Saxons are on the Bengals’ roster, including defensive backs Cody Sorensen and Cole Lemer, and linebackers Kurt Karstetter and Drew Sharkey.
Sorensen, the son of Washington State All-America free safety Paul Sorensen, is the only starter of the four. Sorensen, a redshirt sophomore, has 47 total tackles, second most on the team.
Kramer said he’s been impressed by Sorensen’s progress since suffering an ACL injury in 2011.
“He’s fought all the way back to be a dynamic player for us,” Kramer said.
Karstetter, Lemer and Sharkey – the son of Ferris coach Jim Sharkey – all have seen action this year. Karstetter, the younger brother of former Washington State receiver Jared Karstetter, “was poised to have a great season” before injuries took a toll, Kramer said.
Southern Utah earned its sixth win of the season with a 19-9 win over Idaho State last week. The Thunderbirds, who have a bye this week, have equaled the most wins in a season since Ed Lamb took over the program in 2008. … Montana State senior Cody Kirk rushed for 119 yards against UC Davis, becoming the second player in school history with 3,000 career rushing yards. Kirk has 3,048. The all-time leader is Ryan Johnson (3,646). … Home teams won three of the five conference games last week and are 15-14 in conference games. … Portland State’s Michael Plummer blocked a North Dakota punt in the fourth quarter, which led to the Vikings’ first touchdown in a 14-10 win. Portland State has blocked three punts this season, which is tied for the national lead. PSU has blocked six kicks total, which is also tied for the national lead.