CHENEY, Wash. — This Saturday could very well be Eastern Washington football’s toughest game remaining in the regular season.
The fifth ranked Eags hit the road to take on 16th ranked Jacksonville State.
THE EAGS' FIRST TWO GAMES
Eastern Washington is coming off a loss to Division I Washington in week one and a win against Division II Lindenwood in week two.
The team wants to look sharper though. The Eags said they felt like they under-performed against the Huskies and let its foot off the gas against Lindenwood.
"This will be definitely a learning game, especially off of the last two games. We’ve got a lot of things to work on," said EWU defensive end Mitchell Johnson. "I think this will be the game where we fully step in to the team we want to be with some corrections we want to make this week in practice. I think it’s going to come full circle, and it’s going to show the nation what kind of team we’re going to be the rest of the season."
"We’re far from a finished product," reiterated head coach Aaron Best. "Like we talked about preseason, seeing the four games in the non-league schedule and then starting to build our identity off those four games as we head into the Big Sky conference slate."
PASS DEFENSE MUST BE BETTER FOR EWU
Eastern Washington has struggled early this season with its pass defense.
They've let up about 330 passing yards per game through two games. That's how Lindenwood ended up scoring 31 points on the Eags.
It needs to be better against Jacksonville State. JSU's quarterback Derrick Cooper is completing passes at a remarkable 77 percent clip with 379 yards per game through two games.
"Mr. Cooper is the real deal," EWU head coach Aaron Best said. "At times you'd think his middle name is Houdini because of how he gets out of trouble. He throws the prettiest deep ball I've seen in some time."
EWU has to come out ready and apply pressure to knock him off his game.
EWU WILL HAVE OPPORTUNITIES IN THE RUN GAME
The Eags run the ball more than they pass and that might just bode well for them in this matchup.
Jacksonville State has given up an average of 5.3 yards per carry so far this season and allowing 180 yards on the ground per game.
However, Eags running back Dennis Merritt went down with a leg injury last week that will possibly keep him out for the rest of the year.
The depth of this running back crew led by Antoine Custer Jr. will need to step up.
"I think it’s huge to get Antoine in there and Isaiah Lewis and some of those younger running backs," said tight end Jayce Gilder. "Up front, O-line, tight ends, wide receivers, we’ve got to block long and hard for them. There’s a lot of things that we need to do upfront because they’re a physical bunch and we just got to establish that though because I think that’s going to open up a lot of things for us."
"Guys are going to step into different roles," said Best. "They’re not going to be the same roles with Dennis Merritt out this week. Individuals need to step up. Collectively we need to step up."
The game will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. and will air on ESPN+.