The Big Sky football season is past its midpoint, and on Saturday the ninth-ranked Eastern Washington Eagles face their highest-ranked conference foe – on the road – at UC Davis.
The Aggies are ranked 11th in the FCS STATS poll and, like the Eagles, are 3-1. But because their April rematch with Cal Poly has been canceled, this is Davis’ last scheduled Big Sky contest.
The Eagles got in their game against the Mustangs last weekend – a 62-10 victory – before Cal Poly opted out of the rest of its season on Monday, with athletic director Don Oberhelman citing a “high number of serious, season-ending injuries to our players,” according to a release.
Cal Poly’s decision also eliminates the final game on Weber State’s calendar, and so the third-ranked Wildcats (3-0) – the only team ahead of Davis and Eastern in the eight-team Big Sky standings – have just two games left to play: Saturday at Southern Utah (1-3) and April 10 at home against Idaho State (1-3).
Those cancellations make this weekend’s matchup all the more important for both the Eagles and the Aggies, who are aiming to return to the FCS playoffs after both missed the postseason in 2019.
The two teams did not play in 2019 but met twice at the end of 2018, when the Eagles and Aggies were ranked in the top seven of the FCS. Quarterbacked by then-sophomore Eric Barriere, Eastern won the first matchup 59-20 at the tail end of the regular season and then won the rematch as well, 34-29, in the FCS playoff quarterfinals.
After Eastern’s victory last Saturday against Cal Poly, Eagles coach Aaron Best said UC Davis has been “a very capable outfit for the last few years.”
“Coach (Dan) Hawkins has done a great job to get them back on the national landscape,” Best said.
Davis ranks 10th in the FCS in total offense (469 yards per game) and ninth in rushing (228.5), and in three-plus seasons under Hawkins the Aggies are 23-17 overall.
Eastern’s offense has been on a tear the last three weeks, scoring 153 points total in victories over Northern Arizona, Idaho State and Cal Poly.
Barriere ranks sixth nationally in total offense (384.8 yards per game) and in passing touchdowns (13). Through four games the senior quarterback has averaged 13 yards rushing per game – down from the 46.5 he averaged in 2019 – but his pass completion percentage is slightly better this year (62.4) than last (58.9).
“The first thing (about Barriere) that comes to mind is poise in his leadership capabilities,” Best said. “A lot of the stuff physically hasn’t changed a ton, it’s just how he gets to the point of making reads, staying in the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield. A couple years ago he might have taken off a few times (Saturday) a little sooner than he did.
“He’s extending his plays with his arm more so than probably his feet. And I’ll say it again, (if he is) not the best player in America, which I feel that’s my vote, he’s one of the best. He’s dynamic, and he understands the offense.”
The Eagles and Aggies are vying for the five at-large bids into the 16-team FCS playoff bracket and for the Big Sky’s automatic bid if Weber State were to lose – though UC Davis lost to Weber State earlier this season, 18-13.
Idaho, at 2-1, is in fourth place, with a victory over Eastern already and a rematch at Roos Field on April 10. The 24th-ranked Vandals play at Idaho State this weekend and are scheduled to close their season April 17 at Northern Arizona.
Ojoh enters portal: The Eagles played without starting linebacker Chris Ojoh last week, and this week the junior entered the transfer portal. In his announcement on Twitter, Ojoh wrote that he intends to use his two remaining years of eligibility in the ‘21 and ‘22 seasons. In 2018 he ranked second on the team with 105 tackles. He played in just four games in 2019.
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