Eastern features three All-America receivers plus a quarterback who has already beaten WSU once, and they'll march into Martin Stadium on Saturday armed and ready for a shootout.
| Cougars (0-1) vs Eagles (1-0)|
AT A GLANCE
12:00 pm Pacific Time
Players to Know
Kyle Padron QB: Padron literally follows in the footsteps of record-setting Bo Levi Mitchell. Like Mitchell, Padron comes to Eastern via SMU. The transfer QB started 21 games for June Jones finishing with a record of 12-9, including a 35-21 victory over Washington State in 2010. He led the Mustangs to two bowl games, and was even MVP of the 2009 Hawaii Bowl (460 passing yards and 2 TDs) before injuries cost him his starting job in 2011. At 6-4, 225 pounds, Padron has a frame and a game built for the next level of play. He has excellent mobility and a cannon arm, throwing for 5,902 yards and 41 touchdowns in 24 college appearances. Padron was a mere 13-for-33 in his opening game against Idaho, but still threw for an impressive 20 yards per completion.
Nicholas Edwards, Greg Herd, and Brandon Kaufman, WRs: The group has combined for a total of 405 catches for 5,475 receiving yards and 56 touchdowns in their careers. Huge targets, Edwards and Herd each stand at 6-3 and Kaufman is 6-5. Knee injuries forced Kaufman to redshirt last season but he was a key weapon on the 2010 National Championship team. He showed little rust against Idaho, grabbing five balls for 148 yards.
Past injury problems now yield the Eagles a bounty of experience. Eight starters return on offense from last year, but the team's depth is far greater than that. Ten different offensive linemen have starting experience, Padron is a former starter at the FBS level, and 2010 All-American Nicholas Kaufman is now back from injury. The group will operate a spread offense that is expected to be at least as pass-happy as is WSU's. The Eagles threw for 4,052 yards in 2011 vs. only 869 rushing yards.
EWU only turned to the running game when the victory was well in hand against Idaho. Padron will throw the ball a ton -- and he will look to hurt the Cougars deep. The WSU secondary held its own against a pretty solid group of receivers at BYU, though. If the Cougs can generate a consistent pass rush, Padron's accuracy could suffer.
1,000 yards: Eastern has three receivers on their roster who have posted 1,000 yard seasons. Kaufman had 1,214 in 2010, Edwards led the FCS with 1,250 yards in 2011 and Herd had 1,022 yards alongside him.
THE EAGLES ON DEFENSE
Players to Know
Zach Johnson, WIL: The Eagles regain the services of 2010 All Big-Sky linebacker Zach Johnson who missed the 2011 campaign with a knee injury. He has 260 career tackles, 6.5 sacks and three interceptions to his credit.
TJ Lee III, CB: Lee headlines a veteran secondary who looked outstanding against Idaho. Eastern has some concerns about their other corner so Lee will likely assume responsibilities over Marquess Wilson. At 5-9, however, he could suffer from some mismatch problems.
2011 injury problems again deliver the Eagles loads of depth in 2012. With 24 returning letterwinners, virtually the entire two deeps has starting experience. Eastern runs a traditional 4-3 defense but they play with reckless abandon and at the moment they are healthy. Idaho had zero success on the ground (2.6 yards per rush) or through the air (5.1 yards per pass) in their contest against Eastern.
Texas Tech, when Mike Leach was at the helm, won easily over EWU in 2008 by a score of 49-24. But this is 2012 and BYU offered a potentially tremendous game plan to opposing defenses against the Cougs -- flood the secondary with defenders and take your chances with the run. Simply put, WSU cannot continue to underperform in the running game when the odds are stacked heavily in their favor. EWU's front seven is experienced but nowhere near the physical force BYU's was in Provo. The Cougs should have better luck hurting the Eagles if they opt to overextend themselves in pass defense -- both via the offensive line and in the running back corps. When passing the ball, it's been talked about all week -- Jeff Tuel must show less hesitation and attack the secondary vertically. The quality of WSU's receivers will shine through if he plays like he is capable and gives the wideouts a chance to prove their worth.
2-for-15: Idaho managed to convert just 2 third downs against Eastern and never mounted a serious drive after their first quarter field goal.
THE EAGLES ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Jimmy Pavel appears to have answered the Eagle's question at kicker, going 2-for-2 against Idaho. Punter Jake Miller is an All-America candidate.
-A strong case can be made that the best football program in the state of Washington the past two years might well have been up in Cheney. The Eagles proved to be more than adequate for Pac-12 competition when they took the Huskies down to the wire last September in Seattle. In fact, Eastern probably would have beaten UW if not for some special teams turnovers. The Eagles more than doubled the offensive production of the Huskies -- 504 yards to 250. They also racked up 30 first downs to the Huskies' 14 before ultimately falling 30-27, allowing the Huskies to barely escape.
-That loss still tastes bitter to a lot of Eastern's players and they are chomping at the bit for another crack at regional and national respect. WSU had better out-execute Eastern because the Eagles think they can win the battle of wills.
-The regional talent gap (as well as nationally) between FBS and FCS teams, is nowhere near what it was 10 years ago. The EWU roster is no longer dominated by in-state prospects rejected by WSU and UW. EWU can and does recruit nationally, with nearly half its roster coming from out of state. Plus, eight different players are FBS transfers who came to Eastern looking for more playing time.
-Not only has Eastern never beaten WSU, the Eagles have never actually scored on the Cougars (119-0 in two meetings). But to be fair to EWU, the last meeting was during the Roosevelt Administration. Teddy Roosevelt.
-If WSU's secondary loses their poise, 1,000 combined passing yards are not out of the realm of possibility in this game. Eastern's strength on offense is found in their receivers and they will continually let the ball fly. Assuming Eastern stacks the box, WSU would be well served to do the same.