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Eastern Washington, Idaho ready to bounce back after heartbreaking losses

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 20, 2019, 5:56 p.m.

Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere (3) beats Idaho defender Christian Elliss (1) up the field, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Cheney. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere (3) beats Idaho defender Christian Elliss (1) up the field, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Cheney. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Maybe Idaho head coach Paul Petrino heard Aaron Best’s tongue-in-cheek request.

Eastern Washington’s third-year head coach commented this week on Idaho’s two quarterbacks – Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson – and how they’ve both been used.

But which one will Idaho (1-2) go with on Saturday when it hosts the 11th-ranked Eagles (1-2) at the Kibbie Dome?

“Any time Coach Petrino wants to let us know who that guy is, we’d naturally take that information from him,” Best said.

For the first time in two seasons, Petrino named his son the clear-cut starter on Tuesday, which didn’t come as much of a surprise considering he’s seen the majority of the team’s reps this season.

Nobody’s asking who Eastern Washington’s primary signal caller is, though. Especially Idaho.

Eric Barriere passed for 326 yards and three touchdowns in EWU’s 38-14 rout of the Vandals in Cheney last year, adding 70 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in the process.

Dual-threat quarterbacks gave the Vandals headaches in Big Sky Conference play in 2018, a big reason they finished in the bottom tier of the conference despite spending the previous 22 seasons in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

So has Idaho’s defense made the proper adjustments to keep athletes like Barriere out of the open field?

“We’ll find out this week, because they don’t get any more mobile than him,” Paul Petrino said. “He’s a playmaker. He’s a great player, makes plays with his feet and his arm.”

Idaho’s hard-running, short-passing offense (315 yards per game) will attempt to grind its way upfield, keeping Barriere and his cache of weapons handcuffed to the sideline.

That approach helped Idaho almost beat Mountain West Conference member Wyoming (3-0) in Laramie last week, jumping out to a 10-0 lead before falling 21-16.

Mason Petrino, who has completed 49 of 80 passes this season for 484 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, said he’s confident.

“I’m mentally ready. I think this is the most mentally ready I’ve been prepared for a game,” Mason Petrino said. “And so is our team. It should be a good game Saturday.”

Idaho running backs Aundre Carter and Roshaun Johnson have combined to average 117 rushing yards for Idaho’s offense, which has been led by talented receiver Jeff Cotton, who has 28 catches and is averaging 106 yards game.

Petrino hasn’t completed a pass longer than 26 yards this season.

“They have a lot of experience in key areas and a great receiver in Mr. Cotton,” Best said. “They make it a point to get him the ball, and he wins most of those 50-50 balls.”

EWU and Idaho have each struggled on defense, both giving up roughly 43 points a game. They also have similar early season résumés.

Both teams were handled by good Power 5 conference teams, EWU losing 47-14 at Washington and Idaho falling 79-9 at Penn State.

Both have beaten NCAA Division II teams, the Eagles downing Lindenwood 59-31 and the Vandals beating Central Washington 41-31.

Both teams blew leads last week in losses on the road. EWU had a 21-point lead at fellow FCS power Jacksonville State before a fourth-quarter meltdown resulted in a 49-45 loss. Idaho lost its lead and fell down the stretch at Wyoming.

EWU cornerback Darreon Moore thinks the Vandals have improved.

“They have a good offense. They look better than last year,” Moore said. The quarterback has improved. They seem like a better outfit than they were.”

Moore was one of the players who went down with injuries at Jacksonville State and sat out of practice this week.

The Eagles’ top two linebackers, Chris Ojoh and Jack Sendelbach, also appear to be shelved this week. Ojoh was in crutches on Tuesday and Sendelbach was on the sidelines in an arm sling.

Special teams could also play a big factor in Moscow, where Idaho has won five of its past six games.

Idaho boasts one of the country’s top kickers and punters in Cade Coffey, a Lakeland High graduate whose foot has accounted for 25 points this season, including 5 for 5 on field goals. He’s also averaging 44 yards a punt.

Eastern has struggled in its punting game (32.5) and has hit half of its field-goal attempts (2 for 4).

Not a Big Sky game

Because of the 13-team Big Sky Conference’s unbalanced schedule, this game won’t count in the conference standings like it did this last season.

EWU begins its true Big Sky slate next week when it hosts – oddly enough – ex-Big Sky member North Dakota, which left the conference in 2017. The Fighting Hawks, who officially join the Missouri Valley Conference in 2020, are playing a Big Sky schedule as an independent, as they did last season.

History

This will only be the fourth time Idaho and EWU have met in this century. The Eagles beat the Vandals at the Kibbie Dome in 2003 (8-5) and 2012 (20-3) when Idaho was a FBS member.

When Idaho dropped back down to the Big Sky in 2018, EWU won 38-14 at Roos Field.

Idaho dominated the series in 1980s and 1990, winning 14 of its 18 meetings over that span.

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