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Eastern Washington University Football
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‘Crazy arm talent’: Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere has all-time FCS records in his sight

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 22, 2021

Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere is averaging 438.1 passing yards per game this season and has surpassed 11,800 career passing yards.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere is averaging 438.1 passing yards per game this season and has surpassed 11,800 career passing yards. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

In 2007, the Eastern Washington football team traveled to McNeese State in Louisiana for a playoff game.

During the trip, Matt Nichols, Eagles quarterback at the time, picked up a brochure of Football Championship Subdivision statistics. Steve McNair’s name – or more specifically, McNair’s statistics – stood out to Nichols.

Nichols was there with teammate Greg Peach, and “I distinctly remember looking at McNair’s statistics thinking that no one’s going to touch those,” Nichols said.

They were and still are gaudy, video game-like numbers, specifically those for McNair’s 1994 season at Alcorn State, after which he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting. That year McNair had 5,799 yards of offense; in his career he had 16,823.

That doesn’t even include a playoff game that, back then, the NCAA didn’t count.

But just recently, Nichols felt compelled to remind Peach of that moment 14 years ago.

“I texted Greg the other day, ‘Remember when we thought no one was going to touch those stats?’ ” Nichols said. “ ‘This guy’s going to.’ ”

“This guy” was Eric Barriere.

While Barriere would need to step up his already considerable pace to match McNair’s at Alcorn State, the Eastern Washington quarterback is certainly having a season worthy of comparison, a season that continues against Weber State (2-4, 1-2 Big Sky) on Saturday at Roos Field, where Barriere is 16-0 as a starter for the second-ranked Eagles (7-0, 4-0).

Perhaps, too, it is worth wondering whether Barriere’s name should also end up in the Heisman conversation.

“I mean, it’s a little insane watching from the sideline the plays that he makes,” said Eastern Washington quarterback Gunner Talkington, Barriere’s primary backup. “Most of the (throws), you wouldn’t expect him to get out, but somehow he does. He makes plays look like they’re natural for him.”

‘Crazy arm talent’

McNair played in the era when the Football Championship Subdivision was known as Division I-AA, and while his statistics are impressive, they don’t count playoff games. That’s specifically important to the 1994 season, when McNair officially threw for 4,863 yards in 11 games. But in Alcorn State’s one playoff game, he threw for another 514, giving him a total of 5,377 yards through 12 games.

That would be the most in FCS history, better than the official record of 5,160 that Eastern quarterback Gage Gubrud set in 2016. Gubrud got the benefit of playoff games and amassed that total across 14 games.

Regardless, on a game-by-game basis Barriere’s passing numbers – if not his total offense numbers – are almost identical to McNair’s if extrapolated out for a full season. Through seven games, Barriere is averaging 438.1 passing yards per game; McNair’s average (in the official record book) in 1994 was 442.

Keeping up that pace would be all the more impressive considering the teams Barriere has yet to play. He and the Eagles face Weber State on Saturday and then, two weeks later, Montana State, two of the best defenses in the Big Sky Conference. They finish out with conference games at UC Davis and Portland State.

Presumably, they will also meet formidable defenses in the playoffs, but even if Barriere’s average slips a bit he is still on pace to break the single-season passing total. Through seven games, Barriere has thrown for 3,067 yards. At his current pace, he would need five games to pass Gubrud’s mark.

“From Day 1, you know this kid’s a freak of nature athletically,” Gubrud said. “Like every guy who comes into college, it’s the mental aspect, specifically at the quarterback position, that they need to develop. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of room to grow.”

But to Gubrud, it is clear that Barriere has done that.

“He makes it look easy, everything he does,” Gubrud said.

Gubrud remembers a competition in which Barriere participated as a true freshman.

“(Then head) coach (Beau) Baldwin, being the coach that he is, gets this little competition together after practice, who could throw (or) punt further,” Gubrud said. “Jordan (Dascalo) was punting and thought he could punt farther than Eric (Barriere) could throw it.”

Dascalo booted the ball a good 65 yards, Gubrud said.

“Eric comes up to the line and wings it, with a flick of a wrist, 75 yards,” Gubrud said. “He (had) a crazy arm talent, and you knew he was going to be special.”

A couple of years later, Gubrud was injured and Barriere took over as starter. It was then that Gubrud knew it, he said: “This guy’s going to be for real.”

Barriere appeared in 14 games that 2018 season, and his athleticism was on full display. He completed 61% of his passes for 2,450 yards and 24 touchdowns, but he also ran for more yards that season (613) than he has any other year, scoring eight of his 20 career rushing touchdowns in the process.

In a national semifinal game, the Eagles’ offense put up more yards against Maine’s top-20 offense than any other team did in all of 2018. Barriere accounted for 352 passing yards, another 53 rushing and seven touchdowns.

At the time, Eagles coach Aaron Best chalked Barriere’s stats – then the most impressive in a single game in his career – to the quarterback’s increased experience.

North Dakota State beat Eastern in the title game, holding Barriere to 198 passing yards and a 52% completion rate.

But Barriere continued to play better the next season, six times throwing for more than 300 yards and again rushing for eight touchdowns to go with 558 yards gained on the ground. He finished with 3,712 passing yards and 31 touchdowns through the air.

In the shortened spring season of 2021, Barriere increased his completion percentage to 62% and averaged what was then a career-best 348.4 passing yards per game. He also ran much less: just 20.6 yards per game, down from 46.5 the year before.

This fall, that average is down to 8.4 rushing yards per game, an average that makes the comparisons to 1994 McNair less apt: That season, 936 of McNair’s FCS-record 5,799 yards of offense came with his feet.

But Gubrud said Barriere is probably running less for a couple of reasons. First, in 2018, the team called more designed runs. Second, Gubrud said, is that Barriere knows better where to go with the football, something he said tends to happen as quarterbacks get older.

Best said he sees that this year, too.

“This year in particular, he’s had a lot more ideas going into games where he’s watched film, he’s seen things over the weekend, he’s said, ‘Hey, bookmark this, coach,’ ” Best said. “That’s when you know the confidence level is growing. … That’s the growth just this year.”

Barriere didn’t say much about his reasons for coming back this year – rather than transferring – but he did emphasize winning a national title. He also has alluded to finishing second in last spring’s Walter Payton Award voting, the honor given annually to the offensive player deemed to be the best in the FCS, and that it was an extra motivator.

“You see how he works and keeps improving,” Talkington said. “He may not talk about (the award), but it’s definitely something that is a drive for him, that he wants to keep pushing for it.”

A master of the offense

Bo Levi Mitchell, who plays in the Canadian Football League for the Calgary Stampeders, doesn’t get to watch a lot of Eastern Washington football these days, but the former Eagles quarterback has seen enough of Barriere to appreciate what he is doing.

“Six-hundred yards, seven touchdowns, and he plays a little over three quarters,” Mitchell said, alluding to Barriere’s performance last week against Idaho. “What was going on?”

Mitchell said he has played against defenses that gave him the same coverage seemingly every play, and has played in games where it seemed as if every play was a big one. But even then, his career high at Eastern was 473 passing yards.

He also understands what it is like to learn an offense and that it takes time to master it. But once he did, he said, “It’s amazing.”

“My junior year I was learning the offense, and once Beau (Baldwin) felt like I had control and I had the knowledge, that’s when he would let me call my own plays, make checks, audibles,” Mitchell said. “You really start to feel like you’re playing (the video game) Madden. You’re controlling anything and everything out there. … I assume that’s what’s happening right now. It’s very difficult.”

Except, it’s not actually a video game.

“Comparing it to a video game, that’s something your hand-eye coordination does quickly,” Mitchell said. “But on the field, at game level, not having that bird’s-eye view, (you have to) be able to acknowledge what’s happening around you and what you see and what you want, and hopefully (his teammates) see the same coverage and they know what Eric wants them to do.

“The difficulty of that is very, very high.”

Even if Barriere doesn’t catch McNair’s career records, he is positioned to get awfully close. He has 11,806 passing yards, already 17th all time among FCS quarterbacks. McNair is second all time with 14,496 in his career, behind Samford’s Devlin Hodges (14,584).

Barriere’s 103 touchdown passes rank 19th; he would need 37 more to match Bruce Eugene’s 140, a record he set with Grambling from 2001 to 2005.

But Barriere is certainly within reach of Eastern’s career records in those categories. Nichols had 12,638 yards – also the most by a Big Sky quarterback – and Vernon Adams Jr. holds the Eagles’ passing touchdown record with 110.

To reach McNair’s all-time FCS record for career total yards – which includes rushing and passing – Barriere would need another 3,595. Spread over eight games, Barriere would need 449.4 yards per game, three more than he’s averaging this season, to get that.

Even if he comes up short, though, there’s no doubt Barriere is in control of Eastern’s offense in a way that Erik Meyer, Nichols, Mitchell, Adams and Gubrud were before him.

“It’s awesome when somebody has those natural gifts (and they) continue to take their game to the next level,” Nichols said. “I’ve been in his shoes before, and I know it’s not the easiest job, and he makes it look pretty easy.”

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