Although the competition is not the stiffest with non conference home slate consisting of Big Sky and WAC opponents, Riley has his team prepared. In his five opening home games in Corvallis Riley’s team’s have averaged 35.8 points while the opponents a measly 8.2 points.
It was a close 21-19 Beaver victory with running back Ken Simonton and the offensive line running out the clock the last time Eastern Washington came to the Mid Valley. The team, and the fans, didn’t know at the time that that close call was the start of something special.
This time around Riley and his team are well aware of the tight game in 2000 and while they prefer to not make it a close game, they too hope it is the start of a special season.
"I think we all remember that,” the 53-year old coach said. “This (EWU) is a good football team; they’ve been at the top of their league and very well respected for what they do on the football field strategically and physically how they play the game. They’re going to be well prepared and they’ll play hard."
One Eastern Washington Eagle that will be particularly pumped for the game will be running back Ryan Cole who transferred from Oregon State to Eastern Washington last year. In his first year Cole led the Eagles in rushing and was named to an all-conference team.
Cole will be running behind an improving offensive line that includes All-Americans, right guard Matt Alfred and left tackle Rocky Hanni.
Starting quarterback Chris Peerboom, who threw just 14 passes last year, has ties to Oregon as he played his high school football at Portland’s Jesuit High where he squared off with OSU quarterback Ryan Gunderson in interleague play.
“Peerboom’s an athletic guy and he fits very well into what they do,” Riley said. “They like to run a lot of misdirection, bootleg-type things and he fits well.”
With an experienced offensive line and running back the Eagles may choose to grind it out on the ground testing the OSU defensive line. Everyone on the line, from the starters to the backups, have a lot to prove. Not much has changed to the lineup that returns just a combined seven sacks from a year ago, but Riley feels the depth has improved at tackle and as a unit they are solid fundamentally.
"I think our defensive front has developed individually and technically – I’ve seen a lot of guys get better,” said Riley who is 28-30 in five seasons at OSU. “One of our trademarks has been to play a lot of guys in the defensive front and keep people fresh, rotate them in and out, and I think we have a number of guys we feel good about playing in the games."
Similar to EWU, the Men in Black will rely on the run Thursday and throughout the season, but the receivers will get plenty of touches against an experienced Eagle secondary which sports two all-Big Sky safeties in Bryan Jarrett and Brandon Keeler.
“There are going to be two of them (Sammie Stroughter and Brandon Powers) that haven’t started before that will get their first chance to play,” Riley said. “I think any game is a good game to get the opportunity to improve and to play, but the opener is always a little more exciting that way."
The rubber meets the road in just a little over 48 hours as the Beavers start their longest schedule in school history.
- On Ryan Cole returning - "Things have obviously worked
out very well for Ryan. I thought he was a good back when he was here, and
he’s done very well there and become a key part of their offensive attack."
- Injury update – Starting CB Brandon Hughes
(knee) and DT Nayman Frank (knee) are expected to be back
shortly. At the very least they will be ready for the Idaho game, if not sooner.
- Freshman playing – LB Keaton Kristick will participate on special teams, TE Howard Croom is the third tight end on the depth chart and FB Micah Strickland is the fullback who will be used in short yardage situations.
Dan Norz is the publisher of BeaverFootball.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.