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Wednesday, October 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Montana State’s Dakota Prukop presents interesting challenge for Eastern Washington

A year ago, even his coach didn’t know what to expect from Montana State quarterback Dakota Prukop.

“We really didn’t know who our starting quarterback would be,” Rob Ash said Tuesday. “But he really took off.”

Prukop is one of the best running quarterbacks in the FCS, so opposing defenses still don’t know what to expect.

This week it’s up to the Eastern Washington defense to make some educated guesses to try to slow down the Bobcats in their regionally televised game at Roos Field.

“I’m very familiar with him, and the more I watch him, I don’t like what I see,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said Tuesday before practice. “He’s one of the premier quarterbacks not only in this league, but in the country.

“It’ll be a fun challenge for our guys to go against him.”

Last year, as a redshirt sophomore replacing two-time Big Sky Offensive MVP DeNarius McGhee, Prukop burst onto the scene by helping the Bobcats score at least 40 points in five of six games. He finished with 2,559 passing yards, with 18 touchdown passes, while leading MSU in rushing with 966 yards.

This year, Ash believes Prukop has taken his game to a higher level.

“He’s a great student of the game and we like the fact that he didn’t rest on his laurels. We think he’s pretty special,” Ash said.

So does everyone else. Prukop was a first-team, all-conference preseason selection and a third-team, all-FCS pick. Whether that’s a case of addition by subtraction – EWU lost two-time MVP Vernon Adams Jr. in the offseason – remains to be seen.

“Of course it’s an honor,” Prukop said. “It’s cool to be on that list. But really that just speaks highly of the team we’re playing for because you don’t make that award list unless you’re on a good team.”

The Bobcats return eight offensive starters on a team that finished near the top of the conference in most offensive categories. Most of Prukop’s receivers and blockers are back, but the Bobcats are starting over at running back.

Big layoff for Bobcats

By the time they take the field Saturday, Montana State will have gone 16 days without a game, and Ash is worried.

“We desperately need a game,” said Ash, whose team had the last two Saturdays off after beating Division II Fort Lewis 45-14 on Sept. 3. “We are very concerned about being able to play at game speed,” added Ash, who said his staff has pushed the players to practice “as fast as they can go.”

On the flip side, Eastern is coming off bruising losses to Oregon and Northern Iowa, losing several players in the process. Among the starters, All-American wide receiver Cooper Kupp is questionable with a hip pointer, as is right tackle Jerrod Jones with a knee injury. Also on the mend are running back Jalen Moore (ankle), quarterback Reilly Hennessey (ankle) and wide receiver Shaq Hill.

By the numbers

Eastern’s offense is a study in contrast: The Eagles lead the nation in passing yards with 482 a game, but rank 103rd on the ground (68.5 ypg). The offense also tops the nation in red-zone offense, scoring 11 touchdowns in as many trips inside the 20-yard line. The defense ranks 90th, allowing scores on 12 of 13 red-zone possessions by Oregon and UNI.

Also, Eastern is giving up 7.2 yards per rush, last in the Big Sky.

Despite missing the second half of last week’s game, Kupp easily leads FCS with 425 receiving yards – second-place Jake Wieneke of South Dakota State has 365. Kupp and Twarn Mixson of Hampton lead the nation in touchdown catches with five apiece.

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