Keys to the Game: EWU


DES MARKS | Daily Evergreen File

The Cougs storm the field Sept. 3, 2016 in their first game of the 2016 season, when WSU last played EWU.

JACKSON GARDNER, Evergreen reporter

When the Cougars take on Eastern Washington University, it will serve as a rubber match in Head Coach Mike Leach’s career contests between the fellow Inland Northwest school.

The Cougars took the first game back in 2012 when Leach was brand-new to WSU. Then in 2016, the Eagles shocked the Cougars in their season home-opener to even the series.

Saturday’s game will be the third, and it is one that will surely settle the score. The Cougars enter the matchup as 18.5-point favorites to win. Here are some keys to make that happen.

It starts in the trenches

Both the Cougars and the Eagles have done tremendous jobs of protecting their quarterbacks. Between both teams entering today’s game, there has only been one sack allowed. WSU has yet to give up a sack while EWU’s senior quarterback Gage Gubrud was brought down for the first time this season last week.

Conversely, both teams have been adept when it comes to sacking opponent quarterbacks. The Cougars are currently tied for ninth in the nation averaging four sacks a game, while EWU has seven total sacks on the season, five of which came last week.

With the numbers laid out on the table, it’s easy to see that one side has to give this evening, and the men in the trenches wearing crimson and gray can’t allow it to be them.

Clamp down on McPherson early

Back in 2016 when WSU lost to the Eagles, running between the tackles was virtually nonexistent. That day, three EWU running backs tallied one yard on the ground. But they did have an outstanding receiving corps, which featured two current NFL players in Cooper Kupp, now with the Los Angeles Rams, and Kendrick Bourne, now with the San Francisco 49ers. The team seemed content throwing the ball and letting Gubrud decide when it was appropriate to tuck it and run.

This time around EWU doesn’t quite have the same kind of talent at the wide out position. But for what the team lost in skill on the edges, it made up for in an effective running attack between the tackles.

Senior running back Sam McPherson has taken the reins to the Eagles’ running game averaging 173 rushing yards a game and 9.4 yards a tote. Yes, you read that correctly, the senior from Bothell, Washington, is averaging nearly a first down each run.

Part of what makes Eastern’s offense so explosive is the fluidity between an effective run and pass game. If the Cougars can throw a wrench in the running game, thus making the Eagles a one-dimensional team, it will make the life of defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys a lot easier this evening.

 Show up and get loud

The final key is not for any of the Cougars on the sidelines — rather, it’s about the Cougars in Martin Stadium’s bleachers.

If you’re from the Palouse, here is some food for thought: get yourself to Martin Stadium. Who knows, maybe hit a tailgate or two. If you’re 21, slide on over to one of the adult beverage establishments Pullman has to offer. But by 5 p.m., be in your seat at the stadium and be prepared to get rowdy.

Martin Stadium with its 32,952 occupants isn’t necessarily the kind of stadium that will intimidate a Pac-12 foe. But a Big Sky team, an opponent accustomed to playing in front of a little more than 8,500 fans? Then, yes, playing in front of 30,000 can perhaps be intimidating.

If there is anything you can do to honor the crimson and gray today, it is to show up to Martin Stadium, get loud and maybe even get into the psyche of some Eagles.