Jim Allen, a former colleague of mine who covers Eastern Washington for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, was gracious enough to answer five questions about the Washington-EWU game (12 p.m. Saturday, Pac-12 Networks). You can follow him on Twitter @srjimallen.
1. Does Eastern's offense appear capable of putting up the kind of numbers it did in 2013?
Allen: "Yes, provided the major players remain healthy. Adams will continue to confound defenses with his ability to extend plays, the receivers are a diverse, talented group, and the running back corps is deeper than ever. The biggest question is in the interior line, which lost two FCS all-Americans to graduation. And apart from this week’s game, the schedule lends itself to some big numbers.
2. What about the defense? Do the Eagles feel they've improved there? Who are a few key players on that side of the ball?
Allen: "Statistically, there’s nothing special about the defense, which last year ranked in the bottom half of FCS in most categories (though they did face a tough schedule). The Eagles’ base 4-3 scheme is more of a read-and-react type, but I expect them to be more aggressive after the loss of their top three cornerbacks, including an all-American in T.J. Lee. Linebacker Ronnie Hamlin (from Lacey) is an all-American prospect, and so is safety Tevin McDonald, a UCLA transfer whose third-quarter strip and pick was the key play in the opener against Sam Houston State. The Eagles also lost a pair of 320-pounders at tackle, including former Husky Andru Pulu, and their replacements aren’t as hefty. Cornerback is a huge question on this team despite the addition of Arizona State transfer Rashad Wadood; the others are inexperienced and were vulnerable to the long ball against Sam Houston State."
3. Cooper Kupp and Quincy Forte are both listed as questionable on EWU's injury report, but it sounds like they sat out last week for precautionary reasons. What's been their level of participation in practice this week, and is it known if they are expected to play on Saturday?
Allen: "Both Kupp and Forte were in full pads for Tuesday’s practice, so expect them to play. There was never any doubt about that."
4. With the notoriety the Eagles have gained for their competitiveness with FBS programs, is there any feeling anymore that opponents can overlook them?
Allen: "Referencing games at Washington, Washington State and Oregon State in 2011 through last year, the Eagles went1-2 and were outscored 100-96, with all three games coming down to the last play. Overlook them at your own risk. Embarrassingly, it’s sometimes the media that sometimes forgets to do its homework and lumps FCS teams together into one big lump of mediocrity: Last year, when EWU was at OSU and Nicholls State played at Oregon on the same day, an Oregonian columnist questioned – in print –why they play these “body bag” games. I was stunned! I would hope Husky fans and media can see the difference between Big Sky Conference bottom-feeder Idaho State (a 56-0 UW win last year) and Eastern Washington."
5. Aside from throwing the ball like they're accustomed to, what's the single most important thing EWU has to do on Saturday to win?
Allen: "I’ll give you three: 1) The offensive line must give Adams time to scramble, buying time to give his receivers get open. No one – at any level – extends plays better than Adams. 2) Minimize turnovers; that sounds obvious, but that’s what cost the Eagles dearly in a 30-27 loss at UW in 2011. 3) Run support by the Eastern secondary: the corners are still developing, and seem too focused on coverage. UW’s big O-line and backfield speed suggest a heavy diet of off-tackle plays until Eastern can slow it down."