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Saturday, August 8, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eastern defense focused on Portland State QB

Portland State quarterback Connor Kavanaugh is like a running back, says Eastern defensive coordinator John Graham. (Associated Press)
Portland State quarterback Connor Kavanaugh is like a running back, says Eastern defensive coordinator John Graham. (Associated Press)

John Graham is convinced the trigger man in Portland State’s pistol offense is much more important that any single bullet.

Which is why Eastern Washington’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator isn’t expecting the Vikings to make any major changes in their game plan for Saturday’s 1 p.m. Big Sky Conference showdown against the Eagles at Roos Field – even though they will be operating without senior running back Cory McCaffrey, who was leading the nation in scoring and rushing before suffering what could be a career-ending ankle injury in a 30-24 loss to Montana two weekends back.

“It really doesn’t change what they do with the pistol and the read,” Graham said of the loss of McCaffery, who had rushed for 731 yards and 13 touchdowns in the five games he played prior to his injury. “They played without him against TCU, too, and they still ran all their same stuff with their freshman (backup Shaquille Richard) in there.

“It would be different if they lost their quarterback, because that would really change the dynamics of their offense.”

Like it did last year when PSU’s Connor Kavanaugh, a junior at the time, broke his hand on the opening offensive series of a 50-17 loss to Eastern in Portland and missed the rest of the season.

But Kavanaugh, who is back and in the process of putting together a splendid senior season, will start under center once again on Saturday when the Vikings (4-3 overall, 2-2 in the Big Sky) and Eagles (4-4, 4-2) renew their rivalry.

And it is his presence that is keeping Graham awake at night this week.

“He’s basically another running back, and that’s how you have to treat him,” Graham said of the 6-foot, 185-pound Kavanaugh, who has rushed for 653 yards and six touchdowns – while also completing 57.9 percent of this passes (62-107) for an additional 708 yards and four more TDs – in seven games this fall.

“He’s very elusive, he’s fast, he’s strong and he’s a big, big part of what they try to do with the pistol. Trying to contain him is going to be a real challenge.”

Kavanaugh threw for a career-best three touchdowns in last Saturday’s 36-10 rout of Division III Willamette.

Williams, Agen doubtful

Adding to Eastern’s challenge of reining in Kavanaugh and Richard is the potential loss of senior defensive tackle and preseason All-American Renard Williams and sophomore linebacker J.C. Agen, from Central Valley High School, who both sustained ankle injuries in last Saturday’s 42-35 overtime win at Sacramento State.

Graham said it is “doubtful” either will be available this weekend.

But on a more upbeat note, Graham added that both sophomore cornerback T.J. Lee and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Evan Day, who missed the Sac State game with ankle injuries, should be able to play against Portland State.

“That would be a nice bonus,” Graham said. “We could really use them.”

Kramer returns to Bozeman

First-year Idaho State coach Mike Kramer will return to familiar surroundings on Saturday, when he takes his Bengals into Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Mont., to take on league-leading Montana State.

Kramer coached at MSU for seven seasons (2000-06) and compiled a 40-43 record while winning three Big Sky regular-season co-championships. But he insists he is too focused on turning things around at ISU to get caught up in any kind of emotional homecoming.

“If we hadn’t lost five in row, I’d be a lot more excited – about playing anybody,” he said, when asked about returning to Bozeman.

Ratings update

Montana State, which beat Northern Colorado 31-21 on the road last weekend, remained in the No. 4 spot in this week’s The Sports Network/ Top 25, but slipped from third to fourth in the FCS Coaches’ Poll.

Montana, by virtue of its 28-24 road win over Northern Arizona, climbed from 12th to 11 in the TSN/ rankings and from ninth to eighth in the coaches’ poll.

Eastern Washington and Sacramento State remained among the unranked teams receiving votes in both polls.

Third and shorts

Eastern Washington’s three FCS losses have come against teams – Montana State (4th), Montana (8th) and South Dakota (15th) – who are ranked in the top 15 in this week’s FCS Coaches’ Poll. … EWU’s senior placekicker Michael Jarrett has made 14 of 16 field-goal tries this fall and is just one make shy of matching the single-season school record of 15 that is held jointly by Brett Bergstrom (2006), Josh Atwood (1997), Alex Lacson (1991) and Jason Cromer (1990). … The last time Montana State started a season 7-1 was back in 1978. … The Bobcats lead the Big Sky in total offense, scoring offense, rush defense, pass defense, total defense, scoring defense and sacks.

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