CHENEY, WA -- There were only compliments being passed around after Eastern Washington University defensive units held EWU's vaunted offense without a touchdown in EWU's 72-play scrimmage Saturday (Aug. 19) at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
Interceptions by junior linebacker Kurt Calhoun, sophomore linebacker Trevor Davis Jr., junior defensive back Brandon Montgomery and true freshman defensive back Anfernee Gurley were the highlights of a defensive effort that saw the offense average only 3.7 yards per game. The defense surrendered no play of longer than 18 yards.
The offense was held to a trio of field goals, two by senior Roldan Alcobendas and one by senior Brandyn Bangsund. Instead of voicing worry about the offensive side, the Eagles only heaped praise upon the defense, coordinated by assistant coach Jeff Schmedding.
"Guys are rooting for guys and it's hard to root for them when it's against you," said head coach Aaron Best of the dynamic of EWU playing its own offensive squads versus his own defense. "But at the end of the day you want it done to somebody so you know they have the ability to do it. It all starts up front with that front four (on defense) and then it bleeds all the way to the backend."
The offense generated 200 yards through the air on 38 attempts, while rushing 34 times for 67 yards. But seven quick-whistle sacks generated by the defense resulted in 28 yards of losses. The defense also had five passes broken up.
"From the standpoint of consistency, for an hour and forty minutes I thought it was a very good, consistent and sustainable job done by that red squad (defense)," Best added.
It was an important scrimmage in solidifying the team's depth chart and making determinations on what true freshman will earn a place on the active roster in 2017. Eastern will also scrimmage next Friday at Roos Field starting at about 5 p.m. The Eagles expect to rest many of their starters and give the majority of action in that scrimmage to inexperienced players needing snaps. That will be the final scrimmage before Best officially opens his head coaching career at Texas Tech on Sept. 2.
Starting junior quarterback Gage Gubrud and redshirt freshman Eric Barriere had almost identical numbers in Saturday's scrimmage. The returning All-American completed 10-of-17 for 82 yards, while the hard-throwing backup was 10-of-14 for 89 yards.
Four receivers had at least three catches, including 36 receiving yards by sophomore Jayson Williams. The leading rusher for the Eagles was junior Ashanti Kindle with 26 yards on seven carries.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Conor McKenna has six tackles for the defense, and was matched in that category by Gurley. Sophomore linebacker Andrew Katzenberger had four tackles including a sack, and true freshman defensive lineman Mitchell Johnson had two of the team's sacks.
The Eagles are ranked fifth in the preseason STATS NCAA Football Championship preseason top 25 rankings, and were one notch higher in the poll of coaches. EWU's finished 12-2 and a perfect 8-0 in the Big Sky Conference a year ago and ended the year ranked fourth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs for the third time in the past five seasons, and 12th playoff berth overall.
Eastern will be well-stocked with experience on the field. Eastern returns 51 letterwinners, including 25 on defense, 22 on offense and four on special teams. Six starters return on offense and six on defense.
FG Roldan Alcobendas 24
FG Roldan Alcobendas 30
FG Brandyn Bangsund 20
Rushing: Ashanti Kindle 7-26, Sam McPherson 4-15, Antoine Custer Jr. 3-14, Tamarick Pierce 4-6, Gage Gubrud 3-5, Dennis Merritt 1-4, Gunner Talkington 1-4, Rai-Shyan Alexander 1-0, Eric Barriere 10-minus-7, Totals 34-67.
Passing: Gage Gubrud 10-of-17 82 2int, Eric Barriere 10-of-14 89 1int, Gunner Talkington 2-of-4 16, Nick Moore 1-3 1int, Totals 23-of-38 200 4int
Receiving: Terence Grady 3-17, Nic Sblendorio 3-26, Nsimba Webster 2-28, Zach Eagle 2-18, Dre' Sonte Dorton 3-21, Jayson Williams 3-36, Johnny Edwards IV 1-9, Ashanti Kindle 1-7, Rai-Shyan Alexander 2-16, Tyler Puletasi 1-13, Talolo Limu-Jones 2-9, Totals 23-200.
Tackles Leaders: Conor McKenna 6, Anfernee Gurley 6, Chris Ojoh 5, Miquel Perez 5, Andrew Katzenberger 4, Joe Lang 4, Albert Havili 3, Jay-Tee Tiuli 3, Tysen Prunty 3, Dylan Ledbetter 3, Anthany Smith 3, Caleb Davis 3, Josh Lewis 2, Nzuzi Webster 2, Mitch Fettig 2, Jake Hoffman 2, Victor Gamboa 2, Cole Karstetter 2, Conner Baumann 2, Cale Lindsay 2, Rudolph Mataia Jr. 2, Kurt Calhoun 2, Amir Matheney 2, Keenan Williams 2, Mitchell Johnson 2.
Interceptions: Kurt Calhoun, Trevor Davis Jr., Brandon Montgomery, Anfernee Gurley.
Passes Broken Up: Brandon Montgomery, Josh Lewis, Victor Gamboa, Rudolph Mataia Jr., Mitchell Johnson.
Sacks: Mitchell Johnson 2, Jay-Tee Tiuli, Keenan Williams, Andrew Katzenberger, Joe Lang, Chris Ojoh.
More Comments From Aaron Best
On Scrimmage: "I loved it, because I thought there was energy -- especially by the guys with the red jerseys. I think the (offense) had a few miscues early which had them down on their luck and themselves. It's one of those things as coaches we have to foster and will foster. We only have one senior on offense that plays a significant role now. So a guy like Gage has to take that role as well and take that upon himself. We'll be fine; we're playing some guys in different spots and are still getting a feel for each. We've been on the red for only a couple of days now. So the surface is kind of new coming from the grass, but I was excited for those guys in red jerseys. It was fun to see, and there were a lot of field goals, which is a good thing as a head coach."
On Defense Having Upper Hand: "That's okay. You know the defense -- no matter when it is, spring or fall -- is usually ahead of the offense for various reasons. It's always kind of bewildered me over the years, because you always thought you're in a good spot and your installs are good. Than you come to find on scrimmages, they are ahead of us still. It is different year after year, but if they stay ahead of us that's good, because it only creates significant competition going forward."