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Eastern Washington’s offense struggles through 0-2 start to season

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 9, 2017, 8:07 p.m.

Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud (8) celebrates after scoring the Eagles’ only touchdown against North Dakota State. The offense has struggled this season, scoring 10 and 13 points in back-to-back losses. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud (8) celebrates after scoring the Eagles’ only touchdown against North Dakota State. The offense has struggled this season, scoring 10 and 13 points in back-to-back losses. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Fans fled Roos Field on Saturday with the same question on their lips:

What’s wrong with the Eastern Washington offense?

For the second week in a row, the Eagles moved in fits and spurts, with a disconnected passing game, anemic running and an inability to finish in the red zone.

“There were a few plays, but at times we were inconsistent,” coach Aaron Best said after a 40-13 loss to North Dakota State.

Actually that was most of the time.

The numbers were ugly, especially by Eastern standards: 11 first downs and 204 yards of total offense, the lowest since managing just 186 against Weber State two years ago.

Except that the Eagles managed to win that game, 14-13.

“And ultimately, that’s how we’re judged in this profession,” Best said.

However, at Eastern, they also judge on style points – almost as much as winning – as high-flying offense has helped fill the seats at Roos Field.

But for the second straight game, the Eagles had neither.

And just as they did a week earlier at Texas Tech, the Eagles got worse as the game wore on.

Down 19-10 at halftime, Eastern had managed to rack up 146 yards of offense but scraped up just another 58 after intermission.

But why? Quarterback Gage Gubrud is the same man who led the nation in passing yards last year. The offensive line returns almost intact, and so do the running backs.

The variables coming into this season were the wide receivers and new offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder.

That’s a lot of moving parts, and they’re not meshing yet.

“As a unit we have to be in the same page more often,” said Gubrud, who turned in his worst numbers as a starter: 10 for 30 for 134 yards and two interceptions.

“It really comes down to execution,” Gubrud said. That means pass protection, a quick and accurate throw and sure hands at the receiving end. For the second week in a row, the Eagles didn’t connect the dots.

The offense is balanced, but too predictable, an indication that Reeder is still learning his craft.

Last week at Texas Tech, the Eagles passed 36 times and rushed 36 times. At halftime against NDSU – when the game was still in doubt – the split was almost equal: 18 passes and 17 runs.

The Eagles were equally as ineffective as the week before, as backs Antoine Custer Jr. and Sam McPherson had 10 carries for only 29 yards.

Clearly, the Eagles aren’t stretching the field. As former Eagles wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne begin their NFL careers on Sunday, their absence was felt in Cheney.

“Those guys that left were pretty good players,” Best said. “But let’s let the story unfold a little bit. Two games is not going to define a player or a team at this point.”

That includes Gubrud, who threw for 5,160 yards and 48 touchdowns last year. At no point did Best consider making a change and bringing in redshirt freshman Eric Barriere.

“Gage is our guy,” Best said.