The face of its program in street clothes and wearing a medical boot, fifth-ranked Eastern Washington still throttled the defending Big Sky Conference co-champion Saturday.
It got a look at its future, too.
Sophomore Eric Barriere filled in for injured All-American quarterback Gage Gubrud, accounting for 331 total yards and three touchdowns in the Eagles’ 55-17 win over Southern Utah at Roos Field.
Gubrud, who is 16 yards shy of 10,000 career passing yards, is out indefinitely with a foot injury he sustained late in the fourth quarter of EWU’s win at Montana State last week.
The electric Barriere, an Inglewood, California, product, answered the call with his arm and feet, spearheading an offense that racked up 638 yards.
And he got going immediately.
On the first play of the game he went over the top of Southern Utah’s defense on a 48-yard reception to Andrew Boston. On his second carry in the second quarter, he zipped through and around the Thunderbirds’ struggling defense for an 85-yard touchdown run that gave EWU a 30-10 cushion.
“It gave us confidence. It gave us a huge momentum boost as a offense,” Barriere said of his first pass. “To just do that right out the gate, a nice 40-yard ball and score a couple plays later. I thought that was huge.”
EWU head coach Aaron Best said he made the decision Friday to sit Gubrud after getting opinions from medical personnel. He said he was happy with how Barriere stepped up.
“From start to finish, I was a proud coach of Eric Barriere,” Best said. “He’s one individual that no matter how much I yell or how much I hug him, he looks the same no matter what. He has the same unflappable personality, which is a great trait to have as a quarterback. There are going to highs and there are going to be lows, but he had a great day today at the office.”
Barriere, who is 2-0 as a starter after helping the Eagles win 21-14 at North Dakota last season, connected on 13 of 21 passes for 233 yards.
EWU (5-1, 3-0 Big Sky) avenged a 46-28 loss at Southern Utah (0-5, 2-0) last season, an outcome that ultimately kept the Eagles out of the FCS playoffs.
Of EWU’s lofty yards total, 342 came on the ground. The Eagles’ two-man backfield of Sam McPherson (85 yards, touchdown) and Antoine Custer (75 yards, two touchdowns) broke off multiple big runs.
EWU standout receiver Nsimba Webster, who had been limited the last three games with an ankle injury, hauled in six catches for 114 yards and a touchdown.
The Eagles, who travel to No. 6 Weber State next week, were more menacing on defense.
For the third consecutive week, EWU held a Big Sky foe 17 points. In five wins, the Eagles have given up an average of 18.2 points a game.
The Eagles dominated a typically efficient Southern Utah run game, allowing 140 yards on 43 carries.
Safety Dehonta Hayes, who had a team-high 11 tackles in his first start, helped a defense that allowed the Thunderbirds reach the red zone just three times.
“We knew they were going to come out in different formations that we’ve never seen before, which we saw right off the bat.” Hayes said of SUU’s offense, which averaged 480 yards a game. “But we were able to fill those gaps and make those tackles.”
EWU also forced two turnovers, one a fumble recovery in the end zone by defensive tackle Jay-Tee Tiuli, the first touchdown of his collegiate career.
Southern Utah head coach Demario Warren said his team, which was without starting QB Chris Helbig (injury), didn’t do what it needed to compete conference preseason favorite.
“Obviously not the result we wanted,” Warren said. “We came out here to win a football game and we’re not playing well enough to beat any top-level team like Eastern Washington. We’re not good enough, and that starts and ends with me. We’ve got to find a way to get better as a football team.”
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