By all accounts, the Eastern Washington football players and coaches put last week’s bye to good use.
The Eagles got healthy and got in some extra time in the weight room and the film room. They also gained some perspective, something that doesn’t always come easily when you’re the No. 2 team in the land.
The biggest piece of wisdom ahead of this week’s game at Montana State? Being favored means being set up to lose.
Four years ago, the eventual national champion Eagles traveled to MSU and got whipped, 30-7. Two years later, an underdog Eagles team with a new quarterback made that same trip and came away with a 27-24 upset that coach Beau Baldwin called “one of the biggest regular-season Big Sky Conference games I’ve ever been a part of.”
Now the cleat is firmly on the other foot: Eastern (2-1) is No. 2 in the Football Championship Subdivision and 14th-ranked MSU – with a new quarterback – is looking for the upset.
This is the fifth straight season both teams will enter the game ranked nationally.
“We’ve been thinking about Montana State for a long time,” said safety Jordan Tonani, whose 21-yard pick-6 early in the fourth quarter turned out to be the winning score in that 2012 game.
The Bobcats also are 2-1 after playing a similar schedule, though not as impressively as the Eagles. Both have one-sided wins over lower-division foes, but EWU’s 59-52 loss at Washington looks better than MSU’s 37-10 loss at FBS opponent Arkansas State.
On the other hand, MSU is coming off a 43-33 win over a Central Arkansas team that two weeks earlier lost by just a touchdown at Texas Tech, while the Eagles’ season-opening win over Sam Houston State looks less impressive following the Bearkats’ stunning 47-21 home loss to Division II Colorado State-Pueblo.
More important, the Eagles have spent two weeks getting to know the Bobcats, who according to several players look similar on offense to UW. That includes redshirt sophomore quarterback Dakota Prukop, a dual threat who has 633 yards passing and 270 on the ground.
“He has a lot of speed, and they’re very deceptive, with lots of shifts and motion,” Tonani said. “They can get numbers where you don’t have numbers.”
Defensively, Baldwin describes the Bobcats as “very physical and smart,” with the same talent level as MSU squads that went 21-3 in Big Sky play from 2010-12.
Added Baldwin: “We took advantage of the bye week to look at them and focus in on this game. It’s going to be a tough ballgame for sure.”
Though still saddled with injuries, the Eagles are healthier than they were following the UW game. WR/KR Shaq Hill is fully recovered from a hamstring injury, while DE Samson Ebukam (ankle) also is expected to play; however, DE John Goldwire (concussion) and CB Nzuzi Webster (knee) are questionable. … Single-game tickets for remaining home games are now on sale, with just general admission tickets available for the EWU-Montana game on Nov. 8. Tickets are available at all TicketsWest outlets, including via the web. Tickets for games against Idaho State on Oct. 4, Northern Colorado on Oct. 18 and North Dakota on Nov. 1 are available.
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