Its offense flummoxed and its defense on skates most of the first half, Eastern Washington had finally strung together a sequence of yard-churning drives.
EWU quarterback Gage Gubrud appeared to have shaken off a pair of early interceptions – his team trailed 28-3 midway through the second quarter, the Cougars cashing in on each errant throw – when he hit Andrew Boston on a touchdown strike just before the half.
The Eagles marched up the field again when opening the second half, and made it 28-17 when Gubrud found Zach Eagle behind WSU’s long and athletic secondary.
EWU’s defense followed that up by forcing a rare punt, and the Eagles, behind a run game that temporarily came alive, put itself in a position to cut into the Cougars’ lead again.
Roldan Alcobendas’ 27-yard field goal attempt split the uprights early in the third quarter, appearing to cut the Cougars’ once-commanding lead to 28-20. A hold was called on EWU during the kick, however, taking the points off the board and forcing the Eagles to punt.
“It’s not common there’s a hold on a PAT or field goal attempt. It happened in this case,” EWU coach Aaron Best said.
WSU proceeded to drive 99 yards on its ensuing possession, and continued its scoring clinic on a EWU secondary that allowed 524 passing yards en route to a 59-24 WSU victory.
Gubrud, who completed just 14 of his 36 passes for 231 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, put a lot of the blame on himself, and credited WSU’s defense.
“We didn’t play our best game, but I do think (WSU has) a very good defense. I give them a lot of credit,” Gubrud said. “Good DBs, good guys up front. You’ll see them have success as their season goes on.
“But we did a lot of things that hurt ourselves. Some bad things on my part. Some of those interceptions, inaccurate passes and missed blocking assignments, things like that.”
The Cougars turned EWU’s four turnovers into 24 points.
Gubrud’s outing Saturday was the antithesis of his collegiate debut in 2016, when he torched the Cougars for more than 500 total yards in a 45-43 upset in Pullman.
On Saturday, the All-American quarterback and his offense that led the FCS in total yardage last week was held to a meager 19 yards in the first quarter.
“We had chances, we didn’t take advantage of those chances, it was unfortunate,” Best said. “We weren’t as efficient at the QB position as we’re accustomed to seeing. Gage will tell you he didn’t play as good as he would have hoped.”
WSU head coach Mike Leach praised his defense in containing Gubrud.
“I thought we had a better defensive plan and affected him quite a bit early,” Leach said. “Then we hit a run where we weren’t affecting him quite as much. Then you have to trust the coverage to hold up.”
EWU’s defense couldn’t get off the field, either. WSU quarterback Gardner Minshew connected with a dozen receivers and tallied 35 first downs.
WSU passed the ball 57 times and didn’t commit a single turnover.
“A lot of times we were too loose on a lot of our coverage, and (WSU) found those gaps pretty well,” Lewis said. “We need to do a better job of tackling. Also, we didn’t get any turnovers today, and it’s hard to win games if you’re not forcing them.”
Lewis said EWU had the same zone coverage defensive scheme it had in 2016 when it beat WSU.
“(WSU) was doing most of the same stuff all game, but we just need to win those battles,” Lewis said.
Webster out second half
EWU senior speedster Nsimba Webster, the third-leading receiver at the FCS level going into Saturday’s game, sat out the second half with an undisclosed injury.
Webster, who had nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns in the Eagles’ first two games, had two catches for 46 yards in the first half Saturday.
“It wasn’t a serious matter, but the doctor wasn’t OK with him going back into the game,” Best said of Webster’s injury.
EWU kicker Roldan Alcobendas hit a 37-yard field goal, a 27-yard field goal was that negated after a holding call and also had a pair of punts that pinned WSU near its goal line.
Alcobendas is 3 for 3 for field goals this season, hitting one in each game.
Another FBS rout
From 2011-2016, EWU’s games against FBS teams were decided by an average of 6.3 points.
They’ve been blowout losses the last two years – 59-24 at Washington State on Saturday and 56-10 at Texas Tech in 2017.
When the Eagles went scoreless in the first quarter Saturday, it was the first time since the Texas Tech game.
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