I heard more than a few people conclude before the season that, after looking at the Huskies' nonconference schedule, Eastern Washington would probably be the UW's toughest opponent.
That's not much of a stretch. We've spent the past week writing about how good the Eagles are. Their offense is difficult to contain, their quarterback is one of the best in the nation at the FCS level, and they're never lacking in confidence or belief they can beat anybody.
Remember the 2011 season opener? The Huskies escaped that game against EWU with a 30-27 victory, but the dominant memory is of Bo Levi Mitchell and his 473 passing yards, and of Desmond Trufant's game-saving interception in the end zone with 29 seconds to play.
Huskies players and coaches have spoken all week about how dangerous they know the Eagles to be. Respect shouldn't be an issue. So how do they match up?
Here's what EWU quarterback Vernon Adams said about the Huskies' defense during a phone interview earlier this week: "They’re very athletic. They’re fast and, shoot, I can’t take any chances, silly mistakes, got to be on top of my throws and get my guys the ball in space and let them do the rest, really. I’ve just got to trust every throw and have fun out there, really. Can’t overthink anything. They’re really good athletes, and they’re fast. The whole defense is good. So we’ve got to be on top of our game."
The biggest concern for the Huskies is likely their defensive backfield, which is still breaking in three new starters and had a few slip-ups early last week against Hawaii -- although, as coaches noted this week, they didn't allow any big plays. That will be an emphasis again this week against Adams, who thrives on extending plays and has been given the nickname "Big Play V.A." for a reason.
The key, then, will be for Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha and the rest of the Huskies defensive front to use their size and strength to disrupt the line of scrimmage early, and put pressure on Adams and force him to make plays outside the pocket -- of which he is plenty capable, of course, but that's still better than giving him time and letting him look for one of EWU's skilled receivers.
I do think the change to Cyler Miles at quarterback will be a positive one for the Huskies. The receivers we spoke with on Wednesday certainly believe it will be, anyway. The word that kept coming up was "chemistry," with those guys (Jaydon Mickens and Kasen Williams) seeming to believe that Miles just provides a little bit better leadership and more confidence within the offense. His mobility adds another weapon, too, to the offensive gameplan, and I think he poses a pretty big challenge to an EWU defense that doesn't appear on paper to be all that stout -- they ranked 115th in the FCS last season in passing yards allowed, and like the Huskies, they're breaking in three new starters in the defensive backfield (and, in their 56-35 victory over Sam Houston State to open the season, the Eagles did allow 542 yards of total offense, which shook out to 6.4 yards per play).
Plus, if the Huskies (namely Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman) can run the ball like they did on the final possession against Hawaii -- and I do think they'll improve in that department -- that should make things that much easier for Miles and the passing game.
So while there is plenty of reason to believe this game will be competitive, here's a guess that UW will improve on both sides of the ball from how they performed in Week 1, and their overall athleticism will be just a little too much for a game Eagles squad.
The pick: Washington 35, Eastern Washington 24. (UPDATE: Hard to find betting lines on games between FBS and FCS schools, but here's one service that lists UW as a 12-point favorite, so we'll use that.)
What do you think?
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple