The Eastern Washington football players and coaches said all the right things as they began practice at Roos Field on Tuesday afternoon.
Respect came in measured doses – not too much or too little – ahead of Saturday’s season opener at Washington State.
“Well, we aren’t taking them lightly,” receiver Nic Sblendorio said without a trace of deliberate humor as he considered the matchup against a WSU’s highly regarded secondary.
“We’re ready for anything,” Sblendorio said.
That includes the likelihood of EWU star Cooper Kupp getting a heavy dose of double coverage.
“It’s not like we haven’t seen that before,” Sblendorio shrugged as he put on his helmet and got to work.
Actually, the Eagles have seen it all before in games against Pac-12 opponents. This will be their sixth straight matchup against the big boys in a series that dates back to a three-point loss at Washington in 2011.
Since then, they’ve lost at WSU by four, won by three at Oregon State, lost by a touchdown at UW and dropped a 61-42 decision last year at Oregon.
In a game with many intangibles, intimidation won’t be one of them.
Senior running back Jabari Wilson has come full circle since he started as a redshirt freshman in the 49-46 win at OSU in 2013.
“I try to think about the success we’ve had being the underdog … of me as a young guy just doing what was asked of me – it’s just everybody doing their job,” Wilson said.
Wilson said it means “being patient, make people miss in the open field and match their physicality.”
That will be a chore: The Cougars are bigger and deeper at most positions. On top of that, EWU is breaking in a new offensive line and probably a new quarterback in redshirt sophomore Gage Gubrud.
Las Vegas has installed WSU as a 23 1/2-point favorite, presumably anticipating a mismatch between EWU’s defense and the Cougars offense led by quarterback Luke Falk.
EWU coach Beau Baldwin said he’s impressed with Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense.
“It’s tough,” Baldwin said. “You have a decent idea of what he does … but he gets his guys to do it to such a high level that (no matter what you do) it’s still going to work. And they have adjustments.
“You can call it (the Air Raid) simple, but I call it simple in the best ways possible.”
“I kind of like that chess game,” EWU senior linebacker Miquiyah Zamora said. “I understand where they’re coming from, but I think we’ve taken big strides, too … the sky is the limit.”
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