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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Saturday, January 25, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eastern bracing for power football

Eastern Washington’s defense has dealt with its share of option offenses this fall.

But the one the Eagles (4-5) will face in Saturday’s 6 p.m. non-conference showdown against Cal Poly (5-4) in San Luis Obispo, Calif., is a whole different animal than the popular “pistol” variety used by many teams.

“It’s strictly old-school,” Eastern’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator John Graham said of the Mustangs’ spread option, which often features a full-house backfield with a fullback and two slotbacks. “And it starts with their fullback.

“They like to establish him early and often.”

And why not?

Cal Poly’s fullback is Jake Romanelli, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound beast, who has rushed for a team-high 787 yards and six touchdowns, while averaging 4.7 yards per carry.

“He lines up 4 yards behind the quarterback and just goes,” Graham explained of Romanelli, who has lost only 2 yards on his 169 carries. “He’s big, he’s strong, he runs at a good pad level and just goes downhill.

“He’s going to be another major challenge for our defense.”

And the Mustangs have some other nice options, as well, in junior quarterback Andre Broadous, who has rushed for 666 yards and team-high 14 touchdowns, and slotbacks Mark Rodgers and Deonte Williams, who have combined for 738 rushing yards and three additional TDs.

Eastern, which is coming off a bye week following its 43-26 home loss to Portland State back on Oct. 29, had hoped to use the time off to get some key players healthy. But Graham said senior defensive tackle Renard Williams, who missed the PSU game with a sprained ankle, remains doubtful for Saturday.

And junior defensive tackle Evan Cook, who has been hampered by neck and ankle injuries, won’t make the trip.

According to Graham, sophomore Will Katoa will start again at William’s tackle spot, but redshirt freshman Dylan Zylstra will also see a lot of action on the defensive front.

“That’s just kind of where we’re at right now,” Graham said of the unprecedented injury situation that has plagued the Eagles throughout the season. “But it still starts with whatever four guys we have up front, because they’re going to have to match the intensity of (Cal Poly’s) offensive linemen, who are physical and who can really get off the ball.

“And then they have to keep people clean. If they’re just getting blown back into our linebackers, and our linebackers are trying to get to the quarterback or the pitch man, it can make for a long day.”

The best rest

Montana State (9-1 overall, 7-0 in the Big Sky Conference), which is ranked No. 2 in both The Sports Network/ Top 25 and FCS Coaches’ Poll, and arch rival Montana (8-2, 6-1), which is 7th in the coaches’ poll and 8th in the TSN/ ratings, are idle this week.

That means the Bobcats and Grizzlies should both be well prepared for their Nov. 19 showdown in Bozeman that will determine the Big Sky’s automatic berth in the FCS playoffs.

There is a good chance the loser of that game will still get an at-large playoff bid. And Portland State (6-3, 4-2), which could secure a solo third-place finish in the Big Sky by beating winless Northern Colorado on Saturday and Weber State on Nov. 19, also has an outside chance of making the playoffs.

The Vikings’ two conference defeats came at home against Montana State (38-36) and on the road against Montana (30-24).

Third and shorts

Montana State’s nine-game winning streak is the second-longest single-season streak in school history. It has also given the Bobcats back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time in school history. … Montana’s Brody McKnight set a school record with six field goals in the Grizzlies’ 32-7 win over Western Oregon last weekend and became the first Big Sky kicker to accomplish such a feat since Mickey Penaflor did it for Northern Arizona in 1988. … Eastern Washington senior Bo Levi Mitchell is ranked No. 2 among FCS quarterbacks in total offense with an average of 346.1 yards per game. … Idaho State wide receiver Rodrick Rumble continues to lead the nation in receptions with an average of 10.9 per game.

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