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Eastern Washington University Football
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Eastern Washington notebook: Eagles still work to find their offensive identity

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 9, 2019

Eastern Washington University’s Antoine Custer Jr.  scampers into the end zone for a touchdown against North Dakota on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, at Roos Field in Cheney. The Eagles held on 35-20 to beat the visiting Fighting Hawks. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington University’s Antoine Custer Jr. scampers into the end zone for a touchdown against North Dakota on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, at Roos Field in Cheney. The Eagles held on 35-20 to beat the visiting Fighting Hawks. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Its starting offensive line has more than 150 combined starts.

Running back Antoine Custer has been a four-year mainstay, totaling 3,006 rushing and receiving yards and 32 touchdowns.

Junior dual-threat Eric Barriere is the same dynamic quarterback who helped spearhead Eastern Washington’s run to the 2018 Football Championship Subdivision title game. His primary receivers and tight ends collectively have 262 career receptions for 3,508 yards and 39 touchdowns.

The experience is there, but EWU’s identity in first-year offensive coordinator Ian Shoemaker’s offense – ranked ninth nationally (474 yards per game) – isn’t concrete.

The Eagles (2-4, 1-1 Big Sky Conference) hope to find it in Week 7, a homecoming matchup on Saturday against Northern Colorado (1-5, 1-1).

“We have to find our identity on offense, who we really are,” EWU head coach Aaron Best told reporters on Tuesday, three days after the Eagles’ 48-27 loss at Sacramento State.

Facing a Bears team yielding a league-high 494 yards per game should help EWU’s cause.

It’s been 38 years since Northern Colorado has beaten EWU, which aims to win a school-record 12th consecutive home game at Roos Field.

But the Bears aren’t a complete pushover, recently beating Idaho 27-24 a week after the Vandals upset EWU 35-27 in Moscow.

So will the Eagles’offense – a hit-and-miss operation that’s had as many offensive surges as lulls – be that run-heavy team that set EWU’s single-season rushing record a year ago with many of the same personnel, and looked similar in a recent 35-20 win over North Dakota?

Or will it be the up-tempo, read-pass option and spread offense that had been one of EWU’s hallmarks?

EWU has also called on Barriere to scan the field from the pocket, which has had mixed results.

It’s been a potpourri of each for EWU, which is averaging 303 yards through the air and 170 on the ground, running the ball 243 times and throwing 221.

“I think we’re adjusting (to the schemes) right now,” said Custer, who leads the Big Sky in rushing with 503 yards. “We’re trying to be as up-tempo as possible. When we go up-tempo and fast, we’re kind of hard to stop. It gets the defense on their heels.”

When the Eagles have trailed in the second half this season, it’s often gone up-tempo, allowing a more free-flowing Barriere to break containment and either beat defenses with his arm or legs or hit receivers on intermediate, chain-moving connections.

It’s often been successful, helping the Eagles’ cut a 28-0 halftime deficit at Idaho to a 35-27 loss, and a 34-14 deficit at Sacramento State to a 34-27 game in the fourth quarter.

“We have to finish the play, quickly give the ball to the ref and line up faster so (up-tempo offense) can happen,” Custer said.

Gilder’s drought

Tight end Jayce Gilder ranked second on the team in receptions after three games but has one catch total against Big Sky foes Idaho, North Dakota and Sacramento State and has rarely been targeted.

Because defenses are often trying to flummox Barriere with blitzes, Gilder is often called to pick up the extra block near the line of scrimmage.

Prunty moves to rover

Tysen Prunty, who started at safety last season, has been switched to rover, a hybrid of linebacker and safety.

This allows leading tackler and safety Dehonta Hayes (65 tackles, two interceptions), third-leading tackler and safety Calin Criner (38 tackles, two interceptions) and sixth-leading tackler Prunty (26 tackles) to be on the field at the same time

Ojoh still out

Chris Ojoh, EWU’s most talented linebacker, missed his third straight game Saturday due to a foot injury he sustained at Jacksonville State.

Ojoh also wasn’t suited for practice on Tuesday.

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