Is Cougs matchup with EWU a “trap game?”

Leach says upcoming contest against Eagles is just another week



Head Coach Mike Leach watches the game from the sidelines Saturday night at Martin Stadium.

JACKSON GARDNER, Evergreen reporter

Eastern Washington University  has a good football program. There is no denying that.

WSU Head Coach Mike Leach wouldn’t deny that either, and he is one of the more intelligent football minds in the collegiate game. But does he view his matchup against Eastern as a “trap game,” a label often associated with the Eagles’ games when they take on Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools like WSU?

No, not really.

“Well, it’s the next game,” Leach said. “We have an opportunity to improve as a team and get better and that’s what we need to do. You know, Eastern is the team that we’re going to play against that is going to provide the adversity to do that, but we need to focus on ourselves. I mean, Eastern is a good team that we have a lot of respect for, but the only guys we can control is ourselves and that’s what we need to do.”

You’d be hard-pressed to find Leach agreeing with any ideas that come from writers — kind of like calling the matchup with EWU a trap game — as he commonly refers to them as outside noise.

But is it wrong to think that an FBS school like WSU doesn’t stand to gain much by playing against a premiere Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) program like Eastern, which is known for giving Pac-12 schools a tough time? I don’t think so.

What does WSU gain from a win against EWU? The answer, in my opinion, is not a lot. But if they lose? That can be damning on their season. Sure, there are some AP poll voters who are aware that Eastern is a team that will sneak up on FBS teams, but for most voters that’s just a loss to an FCS team.

And what are the odds that the Cougars do lose?

Just take a look at EWU’s last five matchups with Pac-12 schools, where they hold a 2-3 record, and two of the losses were just a one-score difference. One of Eastern’s wins came back in 2013 when it knocked off Oregon State University 49-46. Then in 2016, EWU opened up its season with a 45-42 victory over a WSU team that finished the season 8-5.

The largest margin of defeat Eastern has taken during that span is when it lost to Oregon State 42-61 in 2015. But that was also when then-EWU quarterback Vernon Adams transferred to Oregon to play his former team in his first game as a Duck. Getting defeated by just 19 points after losing the man they called “Big Play VA,” to then-No. 7 ranked Oregon, this certainly isn’t the worst loss an FCS team has suffered at the hands of a top-10 FBS school.

But the Eagles’ other two losses came from fellow Washington schools University of Washington and WSU. In 2012, Leach got his first win as a Cougar when his team narrowly squeaked by EWU to a final score of 24-20. Then in 2014 the Eagles, then led by Adams, took UW to the last second where they lost 52-59.

And what is the common denominator from four of these five games? They were all high-scoring shootouts. Who else is known to get into shootouts? Why, Leach-coached teams, of course.

High-scoring games are where the Eagles excel. Fortunately for the Cougs, a high-scoring guru coaches them; it’s just a matter of doing it better than Eastern.

Another positive note for the Cougars is that Leach knows his opponent this week is a good team and that it has been good for a while now.

“I think they’re a confident team — they’ve had success for a long time,” he said. “They have some talented players, you know, they have always had talented players. You know, I just think they’re a good football team.”

But when he was asked if there is anything that he could learn from the loss he suffered at the hands of the Eagles in 2016, he said he doesn’t think about it, and for precisely the same reason he doesn’t necessarily entertain labels like “trap games,” because he is focused on the week ahead.

“I don’t think about it very much because I’ve had a lot of ‘next games’ since, so I’m pretty much focused on this one,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I don’t think a lot about the San Jose State game last week — you gotta move forward if you’re gonna be any good. If I thought about every past game that’s all I would be doing.”

I would have to agree with Leach here. You do have to move on in order to be successful. Also, EWU has a different coaching staff than it did in 2016, so there isn’t much benefit in trying to learn from the film.

But Eastern has averaged 41 points in its previous five matchups against Pac-12 opponents. That statistic will raise an eyebrow. We will just have to wait until Saturday to find out if there is any trap at all.