University of Washington

UW Huskies vs. EWU Eagles: What to watch for in the season opener

UW linebacker Brandon Wellington previews Eastern Washington

Washington senior linebacker Brandon Wellington previews the Huskies' season opener against Eastern Washington.
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Washington senior linebacker Brandon Wellington previews the Huskies' season opener against Eastern Washington.

EASTERN WASHINGTON (0-0) vs. No. 13 WASHINGTON (0-0)

When: 12 p.m., Saturday

Where: Husky Stadium

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: KOMO-AM 1000/FM-97.7

Outlook: Eastern Washington comes in ranked No. 3 in the FCS coaches poll. The Eagles lost to North Dakota in last season’s FCS championship game.

This will be the third meeting between the two teams. UW won the previous two games by a combined 10 points. In 2011, the Huskies topped Eastern Washington 30-27. The most recent meeting came in 2014 during Chris Petersen’s first season with UW. The Huskies jumped out to a 21-0 lead in that game before holding on for a 59-52 victory.

“You watch (EWU) last year, it’s the same kind of wide-open system certainly different than it was five, six years ago,” Petersen said this week. “It’s improved. … They do a great job creating conflict on defense and they’re really smart.”

The Eagles averaged 43.1 points per game last season, scoring 50 or more points six times. In their victory over Maine in the FCS semifinals, quarterback Eric Barriere threw seven touchdowns. Defensively, Eastern Washington allowed 22.7 points and 392.5 yards of total offense per game in 2018. The Eagles lost linebacker Ketner Cupp, who led the team with 115 total tackles last season.

“I think you take a look at their record playing Pac-12 schools,” Petersen said, “what they do, how they battle, how they play. Then you look at them in their conference, all their championships they won. Playing for national championship, all those things. This is not an ideal opener coming in here when you watch the tape and what they do.”

In 2016, Eastern Washington upset Washington State, 45-42, in the season opener. The Eagles also topped Oregon State by three points in 2013.

UW is coming off a 10-4 season where it won the Pac-12 championship and fell to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. On offense, the Huskies are replacing two four-year starters in quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. Georgia-transfer Jacob Eason will take over for Browning; junior Salvon Ahmed will step in as the feature back.

The Huskies had one of the top defenses in the country last season, holding opponents to 16.4 points per game. But they lost nine starters from that group, including both starting cornerbacks and safeties.

UW player to watch: There are plenty of options here. Eason is making his debut, safety Cameron Williams is the first true freshman starter in UW’s secondary since 2016, tight end Hunter Bryant is starting the year healthy. But I’m going with wide receiver Chico McClatcher, who is listed as a starting wide receiver after stepping away from football last season. McClatcher had a strong spring and an even stronger fall. When he’s on, he’s a dynamic weapon for the Huskies’ offense. He could make a splash in his return.

EWU player to watch: Barriere, He went 8-2 as a starter last season, throwing for 2,450 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also ran for 700 yards and an additional eight touchdowns. He’s on the watch list for the Walter Payton Award, which is given to the best offensive player in the FCS.

Keep an eye on: UW’s defense. The Huskies certainly don’t lack for talent, but they’re also dealing with a lot of turnover. Is the young secondary ready? Can the inside linebackers fill the void left by Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett? Perhaps most importantly, has the pass rush improved? That’s one area where UW’s defense struggled last season and it was a big focus this offseason, particularly among the outside linebackers. While all the questions won’t be answered on Saturday, it’ll be a start.

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Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for PennLive.com. A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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