Just in case the close call the Huskies had against EWU in 2011 wasn't enough to get this group's attention, they just barely scraped by Hawaii last week. While they should have a decided talent advantage, that by itself doesn't guarantee anything, and they'll need to bring greater effort - and certainly better execution - if they want to avoid the embarrassment of a Power Conference team falling to an FCS program.
Eastern certainly presents a challenge for these Huskies. The Eagles boast a potent offense powered by a serious talent in QB Vernon Adams. They torched Oregon State last year to the tune of 49 points and 625 yards as Adams threw for 411 yards and 4 TD's and ran for another 107 yards and 2 TD's. Their air attack will put pressure on the young Huskies secondary, and the DL will have to be careful in their pass rush to not lose contain as he has enough mobility to pick up big chunks of yardage. Their running game can't be ignored either with Quincy Forte and Jalen Moore having strong games against fellow FCS power Sam Houston State two weeks ago. If they have a weakness, it's their pass protection as Adams was also dropped 4 times in that game; this game will present a great opportunity for Hau'oli Kikaha to stuff the stat sheet.
The Eagle defense isn't as imposing, and should provide the Husky offense a "get well" opportunity. Against Sam Houston State they allowed 35 points and 542 yards as Bearkat QB Jared Johnson completed 31 of 53 attempts for 317 yards, and he gained another 79 yards on 10 carries including a 53 yard TD romp. I'm sure that has not been lost on the Husky coaching staff and QB Cyler Miles. As well, they allowed 133 yards on 17 carries to RB Keshawn Hill, and the Washington OL has to be eager to quiet their critics and take advantage of what appears to be a vulnerable Eastern defensive front.
I expect that the return of Miles, playing at home and having a chip on their shoulder from an underwhelming win last week should lead to a focused and more energized team this Saturday. I know I said this last week, but I expect the Huskies to control the line of scrimmage on both sides with the run game leading the way (including a healthy dash of Miles on option plays), and I think the passing game will look more settled and effective. Defensively I don't think the Huskies can shut down Eastern, but I do think the DL will harass Adams enough to lead to some interceptions and sacks, and while it won't be a laugher, the Huskies pull away in the 2nd half to win: UW 38, EWU 24
Prepare yourselves. I'm about to offend the football deities.
The way I see it, Eastern Washington doesn't belong on the same field as UW. I know, I know ... three years ago wasn't that long ago. In that matchup, the outcome of the game went down to the very last play and fortunately went in direction of UW. However, that was a different time and a different place with a much less talented or mature Husky roster and a coaching staff with very little experience in managing adversity.
This Husky team is an upper-classmen laden roster full of four-star talent and led by a coaching staff that has been there / done that. I get that the staff is still in big-time tinker mode with the roster and that there is still an assimilation period with the new schemes being introduced. But, c'mon, this is football. It is not that complicated.
The return of Cyler Miles, I think, will be too much for a severely handicapped EWU defense to handle. We already know that Cyler is a good decision maker in the read-option and that he can handle any variety of passes asked upon him. The o-line has a huge (and I mean huge) advantage over the Eagle front seven and the skill position talent is a pretty lopsided mismatch. The only thing that will hold this offense back is choppy play-calling ... but I'm of the general opinion that a good QB can make any OC look good.
Defensively, I'm like everybody else in thinking that UW will give up a few plays in the passing attack. However, I fully expect UW to play with good leverage along the front and take the threat of the rushing attack - including Vernon Adams scrambles - away from the Eagles. In making them one-dimensional, my expectation is that UW will generate some turnovers and keep the scoreboard pretty reasonable.
Bottom line, my expectations for a Chris Petersen-led Husky squad against Eastern Washington are greater than those that I had for a Marques Tuiasosopo-led squad against BYU in last year's Bowl Game. I expect domination. UW 41, EWU 17
The Huskies will win this one, but I'm afraid it will be closer than we'd like. The offense will look better, though still not to last-season's form. Expect both consistent rushing and more effective passing. The defense will continue to play soft, both up front and in the secondary, so Eastern will get a lot of yards -- just come to terms with it, it will happen. But the Dawgs will do enough with superior athletes and pass rush to get the win. Home field advantage matters. The secondary will take a step forward. Thompson will move outside against three- and four-receiver sets, and will look like a new man. The offensive line will continue to make us a bit nervous. Van Winkle will kick a field goal of 45 yards or longer.
After that lackluster performance on both sides of the ball last Saturday, the first thing I predict is that the Huskies are going to look much, much sharper. Probably the biggest single factor will be the natural improvement between the first and second games of the season, but close behind will be Cyler Miles at quarterback. Regardless of how big the difference in talent between Lindquist and Miles actually is, it's been made pretty clear this week that the team is much more confident with Miles taking snaps and leading the offense.
Hopefully Jonathan Smith and Chris Petersen learned that while the Huskies have talent in the offensive backfield, neither Washington nor Coleman is a cutback runners in the mold of Bishop Sankey. When given the opportunity against Hawaii, both made nice plays (particularly Coleman near the end of the game) when running down hill in power plays. That should be the game plan against an overmatched Eagle front 7, and if it is, it's possible the Huskies have two 100-yard rushers tomorrow. The passing game will be able to compliment the run better with Miles, and the Huskies should surpass 500 yards of total offense.
Defensively, I'm nervous that Kwiatkowski and Lake are going to employ a similar conservative pass defense concept to the one we saw at Hawaii. If that's the case, the Eagles will very likely be able to pick up yards in the short passing game and string together long drives too consistently. Whether they turn into touchdowns or field goals might be the difference between the game being the route it should be, or a higher-scoring shootout that keeps Husky fans sweating not just from the heat.
In the end, I think the Huskies will improve enough from last week, and make enough stops to keep the defense a little fresher than at Hawaii. The Eagles will put up yards but not come away with the expected points. Call it UW 37, Eastern Washington 20
The game isn't going to start well for the Huskies, and Eastern will hold a lead of at least seven at some point in the first quarter. As the game gets going, Cyler Miles will find a bit of the rhythm Lindquist never had, and the defense will tighten up as Kwiatkowski realizes he can't play off coverage, after already allowing two scores. Huskies eventually show the talent difference is just too great, and they fend off the Eagles: UW 42, EWU 24
I expect the Washington defense to show up with the stout play that we all expected to see against Hawaii last week, and that Cyler Miles' presence gives the offense the kick-start it desperately needs. Washington 41, Eastern Washington 31.
Cyler Miles will throw for more touchdowns than Eastern QB Vernon Adams.