Eastern Washington (1-0) heads to Eugene with a chance to upset the Oregon Ducks (0-1), a team that is coming off a 49-3 loss to defending FBS champion Georgia. It is the first of two games for the Eagles this season against a Power Five program (at Florida on Oct. 1 is the other). If Eastern is to pull off the upset, it will likely be connected to these three factors:
Can Eastern win the turnover battle? Since the start of the 2008 season, Eastern Washington is 76-2 when winning the turnover battle, and to beat a team like the Ducks the Eagles cannot afford turnovers. When Eastern beat Washington State 45-42 in 2016, they were even in the turnover margin, committing one each. When Eastern beat Oregon State 49-46 in 2013, neither team committed a turnover. Giving the Ducks a short field – as turnovers often do – would be problematic.
But if the Eagles’ defense can set up their own offense with short fields by forcing Oregon into such miscues, that would go a long way toward giving Eastern a chance to win. Short fields and an early lead: That’s a formula for success for any football team.
Will the Eagles be able to slow the Ducks’ running game? When these teams met in 2016, the Ducks ran for 485 yards on 57 attempts as Oregon scored six rushing touchdowns. They took a three-score lead early in the second quarter, and while Eastern was able to keep pace from there (it lost 61-42), the damage was done. The Eagles had trouble stopping Tennessee State’s running game last week, and that doesn’t bode well. At the same time, big plays were terribly damaging to Eastern’s defense, and if the Eagles can at least stop Oregon’s rushing offense often enough to get a few three-and-outs, that could give Eastern’s own offense some opportunities to keep possession and get some scores for itself. If the Eagles can get their own running game going, too, that would open up passing lanes for Gunner Talkington and balance out their attack.
The biggest individual performance goes to … ? Cooper Kupp had a monster performance against the Ducks in 2015 (15 catches, 246 yards and three touchdowns), but so did Royce Freeman, who carried 21 times for 180 yards and three scores for the Ducks. The Eagles likely can’t allow such a dominant performance, and they’ll need one of their own out of somebody – Talkington, Freddie Roberson, Efton Chism III, or one of their running backs – to demonstrate to the Ducks that they have one player who demands their full attention. Doing that would potentially give space for other Eagles’ players, too. All this is easier done with a lead, and that might just be the biggest key of all for the Eagles: Put the Ducks in the uncomfortable position of having to come back at their own stadium against an FCS opponent.
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