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Eastern Washington University Football
Sports >  EWU football

No. 2 Eastern Washington pits explosive offense against defensive-minded Weber State

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 21, 2021

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Freddie Roberson isn’t really surprised by Eastern Washington’s offensive output so far this season.

That’s partially because he was around as a redshirt in 2018, when the Eagles’ offense ranked third in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision and reached its championship game.

Through seven games this season, the second-ranked Eagles (7-0, 4-0 Big Sky) are racking up almost exactly as many yards per game (628.1) as they were three years ago (528.2).

So yes, maybe the offense’s production is a little shocking, he said. And yet, it also feels normal.

“After a while you get used to it,” said Roberson, who caught nine passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns in Eastern’s 71-21 victory over Idaho. “It begins to be the norm, putting up those kinds of numbers and operating at such a high pace and a high clip week in and week out, because we intend to put up those kinds of numbers.”

Yet if there’s one program in the Big Sky that has proven capable of stopping this offense, at least historically, it is the one visiting Roos Field on Saturday.

Weber State, 2-4 overall and 1-2 in Big Sky games , will make its first visit to Cheney since 2017. The Wildcats haven’t played the Eagles since that 2018 season, when the Wildcats beat the Eagles 14-6 in Ogden, Utah.

That was one of just three losses for the Eagles that season, and it was the only time in Eastern’s last 163 games in which the Eagles failed to score a touchdown, a streak that dates back to 2008.

And while Weber State’s record appears to portend an end to the Wildcats’ four-year hold on the Big Sky, that’s not how Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best sees it.

“They’ve played three top-10 teams in the nation,” Best said, noting also the numerous injuries the Wildcats offense has sustained so far this season.

“Any team that’s led by a defensive-minded and special teams coach is dangerous,” Best said. “They’ll be hungry.”

Weber State opened the season with a 40-17 loss at Utah, and their three subsequent losses came to FCS teams that each carry just one loss this season: James Madison (5-1), UC Davis (6-1) and Montana State (6-1).

Their two victories were blowouts over Dixie State (41-3) and Cal Poly (38-7).

Weber State’s most recent defeat came Friday, a 13-7 loss at Montana State in which both teams combined for 491 yards of offense. That finally knocked the Wildcats out of the Stats top 25 poll.

Against Idaho last weekend, Eastern Washington’s offense put up a program-record 837 yards and scored more than 60 points for the fourth time this season.

But Weber State has the second-best defense in the Big Sky statistically, allowing 286.5 yards per game, and the Wildcats are particularly strong against the pass, so far allowing just 151.5 passing yards per game, the third-best average in the entire FCS.

Weber State coach Jay Hill said his team is not lacking confidence, even with its 2-4 record.

He pointed to a negative turnover ratio as particularly costly: Against Montana State, Weber State was minus-2 in turnovers. In the 17-14 loss to UC Davis, Weber was minus-3.

“There are so many great things defensively that we’re doing,” Hill said Wednesday. “Stretches (against) Utah, we probably played them better than anybody. The reality is, there’s a lot of confidence. We’re making mistakes right now in games that the great teams don’t make. We clean that up, and we’re still one of those teams in the league that nobody wants to play.”

Freshman quarterback Bronson Barron returned to start against Montana State after missing three games with an injury.

So far, Barron has been the Wildcats’ most efficient quarterback, completing 47 of 82 passes for 518 yards and two touchdowns in three games. But he has also thrown three of the Wildcats’ six interceptions.

On the season, Weber State’s turnover ratio is minus-6; Eastern Washington is plus-7, which is the seventh-best nationally.

Historically, Weber State is the only program Eastern Washington hasn’t defeated during Best’s four-plus seasons. The Wildcats are also the last team to win at Roos Field, 20 games ago, on Nov. 4, 2017.

But much has changed since the start of that streak. And perhaps most notably, Eric Barriere – the reigning national offensive player of the week – has the Eagles offense humming along at a record-breaking pace.

Barriere was making just his third career start in that 14-6 loss in Ogden three years ago and threw for just 185 yards on 19 of 42 attempts. He threw two interceptions and was sacked four times.

This season, Barriere leads the FCS in passing yards (3,052) and passing efficiency (190.6), and the Eagles will be playing on a field where he has never lost a game as the starting quarterback.

“We’re playing at a good clip. We’re dictating tempo, we’re playing complementary football,” Best said. “We’re getting the ball back to the offense to allow those things to happen, and we’ve got some special players doing some special things.”

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