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Opponent Offense Preview: Eastern Washington Eagles

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The high flying FCS power brings an experienced and explosive offense into Husky Stadium.

Hey, a real game is coming up. So let’s talk football. Specifically, offense.

Eastern Washington will come into Husky Stadium with 3rd year Head Coach Aaron Best, who replaced Beau Baldwin, who took the OC job at Cal. While there has been stability at the top, they are breaking in a new OC in Ian Shoemaker after their previous coordinator took an FBS job. He inherits a lot of experience and a returning QB so there is optimism that he will keep the Eagles offense humming and scoring points.

Key Stats (last season)

Yards per game: 527 (#3)

Points per game: 43 (#4)

Pass yards per game: 272

Rush yards per game: 255

3rd down conversion percentage: 43%

Red zone attempts: 76 (#1)

Red zone percentage: 85%

New OC Ian Shoemaker
SR

Offensive Philosophy

The biggest change in EWU football in recent years is the shift from the air raid of Beau Baldwin to a more balanced approach favored by ex-OC Bodie Reeder (now at North Texas) and current OC Ian Shoemaker. That Eastern managed to achieve a top-4 points per game offense all while remaining incredibly balanced - both run and pass yardage per game ranked top-20 - is a good sign that the new concepts are taking hold.

From a stylistic perspective, Shoemaker is introducing more pistol concepts into the offense, bringing in a hybrid of both the single back and shotgun formations. However, it doesn’t sound like coaches are attempting to make a massive departure from last season’s successful unit. When you watch games from last year, they look like a lot of traditional college football offenses you see today. They run no-huddle with a little tempo, are always out of the shotgun, and mix in plenty of zone-read/RPO concepts. You will see them in five receiver sets too, where they like to utilize the TE over the middle. The guy that makes it all go is QB Eric Barriere, who the coaches like to have specific run plays designed for out of spread formations, so he can exploit the extra space with his speed.

While they lose 6 starters from last year’s unit, including their top rusher Sam McPherson, the Eagles do return an offensive line with 123 starts. This likely goes into the decision making in wanting to lean more heavily on the pistol, something they ran last year at times. With a strong offensive line and QB to keep teams honest, it makes sense they are finding ways to stay dangerous on the ground too.

Players To Watch

First, a depth chart:

QB Eric Barriere

Eric Barriere is one of the most explosive players in FCS and was a major factor in EWU making it to the FCS Championship, after starter Gage Gubrud got injured. He went 8-2 as a starter, throwing for 2,450 yards and 24 touchdowns, plus another 700 yards and 8 TDs on the ground. He’s their star and what makes the offense dangerous. Even though EWU likes to stay balanced, they aren’t afraid to let Barriere throw as twice last season he attempted 40+ passes in a game. He is a team captain and on the watch list for the Walter Payton Award, given to the best offensive player in FCS.

RB Antoine Custer Jr.

Custer has faced an up and down career as an Eagle but is ready to make his mark as a senior starter. He was a 2nd team All-Conference selection in 2017 before injuries slowed him down and he lost his starting spot. He still managed to run for 6.4 YPC and 8 TDs on less than 100 rushes last year. With a career per carry average over 5 yards, the hope is the 5-9, 190 pound scat back will give the Eagles another running threat next to Barriere.

Antoine Custer Jr. breaks into the open field against Cal Poly.

WR Andrew Boston

Boston had no trouble transitioning from high school ball in Puyallup to college football at EWU, earning himself FCS Freshman All-American honors. He’s got a long 6-3 frame, and although he doesn’t have the most weight on him, he can high point the ball and make athletic catches. He knows how to get open and it’s just a YAC guy - he finished the season with 43 catches for 531 yards and 4 TDs.

C Spencer Blackburn

The leader of the offensive line was granted a 6th year of eligibility, making him one of the most tenured players on the team. He’s a three year starter and team captain who has made 37 straight starts. He was a 2nd team FCS All-American last season.

X-Factor

The pass rush (you’ll probably hear this a lot from me this year). If the Huskies can get to Barriere and make his life hard in the pocket, it should present easy pickings for the rest of the defense if he tries to force things. The Huskies haven’t had a problem stopping the run but the pass rush has been up and down over the years. Effecting the Eagle’s star player and most explosive weapon will put their offense off schedule and allow easy opportunities for the Husky offense to pounce. Eric Barriere had 9 interceptions in 10 games last season, so he will turn it over occasionally.

Conclusion

Eastern is about as well coached a team as you will find and they are extremely well drilled. They return experience and an explosive QB. Perhaps most importantly going into a game against an FBS team, they return experience on the offensive line. Despite this, Washington’s defense should be too much for the Eagles to handle. Even though Washington is breaking in new faces on defense, their athleticism and size advantage will more than make up for any hiccups that occur. Levi Onwuzurike should live in the backfield in a game like this. The more balanced approach that EWU is taking on offense should be easy to defend if the Huskies just play them straight up.

Poll

How many points will Cal score on Saturday?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    0-7
    (29 votes)
  • 24%
    8-14
    (211 votes)
  • 45%
    15-21
    (400 votes)
  • 18%
    22-28
    (162 votes)
  • 4%
    29-35
    (36 votes)
  • 4%
    36 or more
    (37 votes)
875 votes total Vote Now