Eastern Washington found another way to use – or not use – its quarterbacks on Saturday in its 48-13 victory over Cal Poly.
Redshirt sophomore Kekoa Visperas made his eighth start of the season, and as the Eagles leaned on running backs Tuna Altahir and Justice Jackson on a rainy day at Roos Field in Cheney, Visperas attempted a season-low 25 passes.
But unlike previous weeks, Visperas was rarely subbed out for juniors Michael Wortham and Jared Taylor – the former due to injury and the latter with an eye toward a potential redshirt this season.
After his third carry of the game, Wortham left the game in the first half with an apparent ankle injury. He remained on the sidelines but did not re-enter the game, which by halftime the Eagles led 45-9.
But Taylor, who has rushed 43 times for 215 yards and three touchdowns in three games this season, never entered the game and spent most of it in full jersey under a coat.
EWU head coach Aaron Best explained that the decision to not use Taylor was made to protect the possibility of the junior redshirting this season, which, so long as he plays in just one more game, would be allowed under NCAA rules.
“We want to protect our guys as much as we can, so the ability to have him play in four (games), because he does have a redshirt did play out, was a factor in the decision as to what we do with multiple games left,” Best said.
Taylor made his debut against Idaho on Sept. 30 but did not play in the following game at Idaho State on Oct. 14. He ran for 79 yards in a win over Weber State on Oct. 21 and 15 yards in the loss last week at Portland State.
Wortham has played in all nine games this season – the Eagles (4-5, 3-3 Big Sky) have two more to play – and has rushed 36 times for 255 yards and five touchdowns. He has also completed 4 of 7 passes and is the team’s primary kickoff returner.
The Eagles have other players with redshirts still available, notably true freshmen Tylin Jackson, a defensive end who played in his second game of the season on Saturday; linebacker Samurai Anderson, who played in his third; and starting safety Derek Ganter Jr., who also played his third game of the season and made five tackles.
Two other true freshmen, defensive end Jaden Radke and defensive tackle Jirah Leaupepetele, have played more than the four games allowed, which was something coaches determined early in the season, Best said.
But other players who are not yet to four might be managed differently in the final two games, he said.
“We’re smart with that, because we don’t want to get to five (games) with four games and one play and that triggers a year of eligibility,” Best said. “Those are things we’ll look at, talk about. But Derek Ganter is not playing like a freshman, that’s for sure. … He’s playing like a vet, and that’s good for the team. When young guys step up, that’s competition.”
Other freshmen get first reps
All but one of Eastern Washington’s games before Saturday were decided by 12 or fewer points, so the 35-point victory over Cal Poly allowed some of the Eagles’ younger players to get their first taste of playing in a college football game.
True freshman quarterback Nate Bell led the Eagles’ final two series. He handed off five times and was sacked on his one drop back.
But nine other true or redshirt freshmen played either for the first time or their most significant minutes of the season as the Eagles salted away the clock in the fourth quarter, comfortably ahead.
Running backs Talon Betts and Nick Adimora took their first college carries. Cornerback Jonathan Landry recorded his first tackle. Marcellus Honeycutt Jr. lined up as a returner on a kickoff for the first time after Wortham left the game.
“I remember I was scared to death in my first snaps,” said junior left tackle Wyatt Hansen, who made his team-leading 38th career start. “So being able to get that in a nonpressure situation is important. In practice, you get the speed, but the game’s just different. You can’t replicate that in practice.”
For the first time this year, the Eagles surrendered not just one safety but three.
The first two occurred when redshirt freshman long-snapper Tyson Jacobson snapped the ball over punter Nick Kokich’s head and through the back of the end zone. The first made the score 14-2; the second made it 48-11.
Three other times he snapped the ball perfectly to Kokich, including the third time when Kokich caught the snap in the end zone, held the ball, ran around a bit and intentionally took the safety.
That play, which occurred with 3:32 left in the fourth quarter as the rain continued to fall, was by design, Best said, as he did not want to give his defense a short field to work with.
In the end, Cal Poly got six of its points on safeties, six on a passing touchdown and one more on an extra point.