Don’t kid yourself into thinking that because the Washington Huskies are playing a school from a lower division that they are taking the game for granted. That’s exactly what happened last year in Corvallis when Eastern Washington upset Oregon State in their opening game and literally ruined the Beaver’s season. Coach Peterson has already taken notice as Eastern, the number one ranked team in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, (say that three times)prepares to come to Husky Stadium with another chance at the biggest victory in the history of the little school from Cheney.
Considering the rocky start the Huskies had to their season in Hawaii, there is no way Coach Peterson does not have the full attention of his players. First games are often like that and to travel half the way across the Pacific to play a game in paradise can often do that to kids. Regardless, the Huskies did win the game and certainly there are no style points in the game of football. It is a bottom line sport and it doesn’t matter which team plays the best there is only one winner.
Hawaii was ready for the mighty Huskies and even though they were playing up a league the Rainbow Warriors were game and determined and I promise you it was a long ride back on the plane for the battered Huskies. A win is a win though and now the Dogs must regroup and prepare for another team with a major chip on their shoulders. Eastern Washington’s players have known for a long time that this coming game is “The” game on their schedule and considering the Huskies are the big kids on the block in this state, there is no doubt they are relishing the opportunity to play the biggest game in the history of their school.
A few years ago the mighty Stanford Cardinal lost their opener to Cal State Davis and everyone remembers the upset of Michigan by Appalachian State so there is a tendency for the bigger schools to look down their noses at schools from the lower or “Subdivision” level. You can bet Coach Peterson has made it clear that Eastern Washington is a championship level team. Besides that the seniors on this Washington’s team have been there before. The Eastern Eagles almost pulled it off in 2011 when they came into Husky Stadium and for most of the game outplayed the Huskies before losing 30-27. That one went right down to the last minute when the Huskies’ Desmond Trufant intercepted an Eastern pass in the Huskies’ end zone. For most of the game the Eagles of Eastern had the Huskies reeling and actually outgained them that day 504 yards to 250 yards. Eastern threw the ball 69 times in that game completing 39 for 473 yards and 3 touchdowns meanwhile holding the Huskies to only 102 yards passing. The Huskies knew they had dodged the biggest upset in school history and most of the seniors on this years’ team can certainly remember that scare so there is no way they won’t be prepared mentally this time as Eastern opened their season with a 56-35 win over the previous year’s national champions, Sam Houston State. They followed up that win with another impressive win last Saturday when they too stepped down and beat a lower division NAIA school, Western Montana, 41-9.
Clearly Coach Beau Baldwin of the Eagles has another great team with a prolific offense that had 624 yards in their first game. Their problem against the Huskies will probably be on the defensive side because they also gave up 542 yards against Sam Houston and benefited from 16 penalties for 159 against the Texans. There is no way a Chris Peterson team will hurt itself like that penalty wise but there is no doubt the Eagles have the Huskies’ defensive attention because they put up another 583 last weekend against NAIA opponent Western Montana. Excuse me, but that is 1207 in total offense in just two games. Wow, those are scary numbers indeed especially considering Washington had only 336 total yards in their game against Hawaii.
The Eagles are really exciting at the quarterback position where sophomore, Vernon Adams, is simply an electrifying player. Adams was the national freshman of the year last season in that division and runs as well as he throws. In their opener he did go deep a number of times but only averaged 6.3 yds. per throw meaning he gets rid of the ball fast or simply pulls it down and scrambles. Containing him in the pocket will be a big key for the Huskies. Like the Huskies’ first opponent, Hawaii, Eastern relies heavily on transfer student-athletes and really does a wonderful job of recruiting kids from bigger schools and JC’s who are looking for a chance for playing time. There are close to a half dozen transfers from WSU alone on their roster and Coach Baldwin is really good at taking rejects and molding a team based upon his wide-open approach to offense. He likewise recruits more kids (72)from the state of Washington than The Huskies and Cougars combined and their number one ranking supports the excellence of his program.
The difference will probably be up-front where Washington’s lines should be able to use their size as an advantage. The Huskies have a distinct size advantage and that should play in their favor as the game progress especially in the run game. Eastern will spread the field and play an up-tempo and try to get more space to operate in. They also have the advantage of having played two games to get the kinks out while the Huskies have only played Hawaii. Their win over Montana Western last weekend proved their opener against Sam Houston State was no fluke. This is a good football team and Coach Peterson knows it. There is no way he will not have his team up for the challenge and even though Washington will be the favorite, Eastern realizes that their trip to Husky Stadium will be the biggest game in all of their lives. To them this is huge and after the way they played here in 2011 they have to believe they have a chance.
Quite simply the Huskies need to ball control and not allow the Eagles to run wild on offense. It could be a high scoring affair and Washington will need to win the turnover battle, reduce their negative plays, and win the kicking game. This is and will be the keys the whole season and something Coach Peterson’s teams have been traditionally good at. (the Huskies had zero turnovers vs Hawaii and won the kicking game although they did give up a 40 yard kickoff return to start the game)
Eastern did have 3 fumbles in their win over Western Montana and Washington does have the better punter and kickoff returner but the Huskies can’t afford to have another slow start like they did against Hawaii when they gave up 148 yards and 10 points in the first quarter. (Against Sam Houston State, Eastern had 342 yards and 21 first downs in the first half alone.) Against Western Montana the Eagles put up another 291 yards in the first half scoring on their first four possessions and led 27-0 before clearing their bench. Needless to say they get off to a fast starts and considering the Huskies only scored 17 total points in the win over Hawaii they can’t afford to let the Eagles get off to such a rocket start.
This is the home opener for the Huskies and promises to be a barn burner. The one sure way to slow down an offense like Eastern is to keep the ball away from them by controlling it with your own offense. One of the real bright spots for Washington in their opener was the play of freshman running back, Lavon Coleman who took over the game at the end rushing 17 times for 78 yards and not allowing the Rainbow Warriors to get the ball back. I would think that if the Huskies rush for 50 times or more in this game they will win the game. That and continue to protect the football while winning the kicking game should again be the keys to winning.