As Weber State coach Jay Hill puts it, his team’s fortunes follow those of quarterback Jadrian Clark.
The junior dual-threat quarterback has taken the Wildcats to the heights and the depths this season – sometimes in the same game.
“When he plays well, we play well,” said Hill, whose team visits fifth-ranked Eastern Washington in a Big Sky Conference game Saturday.
“He plays his role very well, and I was happy that in a couple of stretches that he’s looked outstanding,” said Hill, reflecting on the Wildcats’ 52-36 loss last week at Northern Arizona.
“The big thing we’re looking for from him is consistency,” said Hill, who might as well be talking about the entire team.
The Wildcats took Oregon State deep in to the fourth quarter before losing 26-7 in their season opener, then took lopsided wins over Sacramento State and Northern Colorado before absorbing a 44-0 pummeling against Southern Utah.
Undaunted, Weber claimed a rare 24-21 win at 12th-ranked Montana on Oct. 10 and followed that with a 25-24 win at North Dakota.
Then came last week’s disastrous first half in Flagstaff.
“In the blink of an eye we were down 42-9,” said Hill, whose team made things interesting in the second half.
Clark, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder who’s protected by a beefy offensive line, has completed 116 of 228 passes for eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s also a threat to run: He has 182 yards on 60 attempts, but that figure includes sacks.
Eastern safety Todd Raynes said he’s impressed with Weber’s ability to play smash-mouth football while taking shots downfield.
“They’ll keep you honest,” Raynes said of Clark and the Weber offense. “We’re going to have to screw with his eyes a little bit.”
EWU running backs in flux
Eastern’s tailback-by-committee approach is being tested this year, mostly because of injuries.
With Jalen Moore missing three straight games with a foot injury, Jabari Wilson got the bulk of the carries – 97 of them for 475 yards midway through the Idaho State game on Oct. 17.
That’s when Wilson was felled by an ankle injury. Moore was healed by then, and carried 13 times for 67 yards. Last week at Northern Colorado, he had 23 carries for 128 yards and a score.
With Wilson and third-stringer Malcolm Williams (hamstring) listed as doubtful, Moore should see heavy action this week.
The injuries are nothing new, said coach Beau Baldwin, who noted that the Eagles got by last year despite missing all-conference back Quincy Forte for several games.
“By the end of the year you’re going to have four or give guys who’ve contributed in a big way,” Baldwin said.
Southern Utah defense dominant
It’s a matchup fans can only dream about: Eastern Washington’s offense against a Southern Utah defense that’s given up just nine points in four Big Sky Conference games.
Even better, the Eagles and Thunderbirds are the only teams unbeaten in Big Sky play, as both are 4-0 in conference and 5-2 overall. However, because of the league’s rotating schedule, the teams aren’t scheduled to meet.
There’s a chance they’ll meet in the postseason, as the NCAA allows early-round matchups between conference rivals who didn’t meet in the regular season.
In the meantime, SUU coach Ed Lamb said that one of his jobs this year is “to keep the guys humble.”
“We’re really focused on the mechanics of solid defense rather than the final score,” said Lamb, whose defense gives up only 274 yards a game and hasn’t conceded a touchdown in conference games.
PSU, Griz meet in crucial game
There’s a lot on the line this weekend in Hillsboro, Oregon, when Portland State hosts Montana in a game that probably will eliminate the loser from conference title race.
Both teams are 3-1 in the conference. PSU is 6-1 overall and is tied for first in FCS in turnover margin at plus-1.71 per game. Montana is only 4-3 overall, so another lose would put the Griz on the verge of playoff elimination.
Montana may have found a quarterback in third-stringer Makena Simis. Simis tied a school record last week with six touchdown passes in a 42-16 win over North Dakota.
Montana’s Tyrone Holmes leads the nation in sacks, with 11.5. He also leads the conference in tackles-for-loss, with 13.5.
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