Eastern Washington quarterback Harry Leons makes his first college start tonight.
Whether he finishes the Eagles’ Big Sky Conference football game against Idaho State depends largely on two people - EWU head coach Mike Kramer and offensive lineman Aaron Barfield.
“I’ll let him take all the snaps Saturday night, unless he struggles,” said Kramer, who suspended starter Brian Sherick and backup Scott Bond for missing curfew after last weekend’s loss at Weber State. “But I anticipate no drop-off at quarterback. We’re lucky to have Harry.”
And what of Barfield? Tonight, the junior left tackle plays the role of night-club bouncer, with specific instructions to stop Josh Hays at the door. Leons’ well-being may depend on it.
Hays is Idaho State’s right defensive end, a sophomore coming off a season in which he walked onto the team, then had the nerve to lead the conference with 16-1/2 sacks.
“Warren Sapp over there,” Leons joked Friday, comparing Hays to the first-round NFL draft pick.
Hays’ success is surprising only because, at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, he appears harmless when compared to bigger linemen like Sapp.
“You look at him physically, he’s not imposing, doesn’t stand out there with big pipes (biceps),” Kramer said. “All he is is relentless. You can throw all the high-priced recruiting into the ditch with him. He’s as good as any defensive lineman in this conference. His sacks back him up.”
In Idaho State’s game against Idaho last week, Hays lined up against All-American tackle Jim Mills. Three sacks later, Hays and the Bengals had held the Vandals to three touchdowns in a 26-21 ISU victory.
The win kept the Bengals undefeated through four games, and preserved a six-game winning streak dating to last season.
On offense, the Bengals are led by running back Alfredo Anderson (127 rushing yards per game), quarterback Rob Wetta (139.3 rating) and receiver Justin Young (six TDs).
The EWU offense, meanwhile, is faced with a difficult challenge - establishing a running game against ISU’s eight-man front, despite operating with a rookie quarterback working out of a one-back set.
Receiver Jeff Ogden is out indefinitely with a back injury suffered two weeks ago. Ogden has worked out with weights and on the exercise bike, but has not been cleared to practice. His absence has reduced crowding in the backfield, giving coaches a reason to move underused tailback Rex Prescott to receiver.
If Leons impresses, there is no guarantee the starting job will be returned to Sherick next week, Kramer indicated. “Use poor judgment like Brian and Scott, and it affects you over a long period of time,” Kramer said, “especially when you’re not the clear-cut starter at your position to start with. We’ll see how un-clear-cut Brian’s position was.” Josh Lies serves as Leons’ backup.
Don’t look for Jerrold Jackson to be running many patterns over the middle tonight. Kramer took part of the blame for the hit that knocked Jackson out against Weber State last week. “I guarantee I’m going to think twice about how I use him,” Kramer said, “because it was a total responsibility of me as a coach to put an athlete of that stature over the middle. You don’t throw (the ball) late over the middle like that.” Jackson will play tonight.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Eagles vs. Idaho State
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