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Sports >  EWU football

Eastern Washington looks to avoid early deficit in matchup at No. 15 Idaho

Nov. 2, 2022 Updated Wed., Nov. 2, 2022 at 9:25 p.m.

Eastern Washington wide receiver Freddie Roberson (1) celebrates a TD with teammate Brad Prestegord in a game against Portland State on Saturday.  (James Snook/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Eastern Washington wide receiver Freddie Roberson (1) celebrates a TD with teammate Brad Prestegord in a game against Portland State on Saturday. (James Snook/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Seth Carnahan played 23 football games as a member of the Idaho Vandals before he transferred to Eastern Washington, a move he made between last season and this one.

The junior offensive lineman still knows many Idaho players and said Tuesday he is excited to go back to see them and to play against guys he practiced with for more than three years.

There is one other potential perk to playing Saturday’s game in Moscow after practicing in rather dreary conditions this week at Roos Field in Cheney.

“In the Kibbie Dome,” Carnahan said, “it’s always sunny and 70.”

As familiar as Carnahan might be with the players on the other sideline this weekend, there is also much that is different about this Vandals’ team than the one Eastern Washington beat 71-21 last year.

First-year coach Jason Eck has led the Vandals to a 5-3 overall record and a 4-1 mark in Big Sky play, already more conference wins than the program has had since it rejoined the Sky in 2018. They are ranked 15th in this week’s FCS Top 25, one spot ahead of the Montana Grizzlies, a team the Vandals beat in Missoula earlier this season.

“Coach Eck, I respect him, I respect his work,” EWU coach Aaron Best said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “I’ve known him a long time, and he’s done a great job in his first year.”

Eastern Washington, on the other hand, has struggled on both sides of the ball in a way the team rarely did last season. The Eagles’ high-flying offense has been grounded some this season as compared to last: its scoring average (24.4 points) and offensive yards per game (397.8) are down considerably from the heights of last year (44.0 points, 555.7 yards).

In their last two home conference games, the Eagles have fallen behind 21-0 to both the Portland State Vikings and the Sacramento State Hornets. And though they clawed back in each game – within a field goal against PSU and into a 21-21 tie against SSU – those efforts weren’t enough to get a victory.

And so the Eagles are 2-6 overall and 1-4 in conference, their most Big Sky losses since finishing 3-5 in 2006.

“All eight games have been scratching and clawing and fighting and scraping and slugging,” Best said. “ We’re not as far away as we think … this isn’t a 45-3 (loss) every single week.”

It’s just that, Best said, the Eagles have dug themselves holes that were just too deep in the end.

Idaho, on the other hand, has improved its offense this season, averaging nine points and 50 yards per game more than it did a year ago.

A big reason for that is the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Gevani McCoy, who has completed 68.6% of his passes (second best in the Big Sky) and thrown for 19 touchdowns (third). He has cooled some, though, since a hot start: In his last two games he is a combined 28 of 52 throwing the football, though he has thrown seven touchdowns over that span.

Eastern senior quarterback Gunner Talkington is coming off a game in which he threw more passes (60) than he ever had as the Eagles played catch-up against the Vikings. Talkington ranks second among conference quarterbacks in both touchdowns (22) and interceptions (10) while attempting more passes (335) than any of the others.

The Eagles’ offense showed significant life in the second half last week and finished with its best single-game yardage total this season with 564. They’ve run for at least 170 yards each of the last two weeks.

Yet on Saturday the Eagles will be without senior offensive lineman Wyatt Musser, who is no longer listed on the depth chart. Redshirt junior Brad Prestegord is listed in his place at starting left guard. Musser has appeared in more games at Eastern (51) than any other current EWU offensive lineman.

The Vandals may have more at stake this weekend in that their playoff hopes remain, a situation flipped from how it has been the last few seasons. But when asked about the Eagles’ motivation, Best said that if winning percentage dictates effort, then players are competing for the wrong reasons.

“If we have a game, we’re going to play the best we can in it,” Best said. “ We’re not playing spoiler. We’re playing Eagle football.”

Carnahan recognized too that there is no hope of reaching the postseason, but that doesn’t change his motivation.

“We won’t end up with a ring on our finger,” he said, “but there’s a lot to play for.”

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