High-powered Eastern Washington has recently embarrassed some of the Football Championship Subdivision’s worst defenses.
EWU averaged 677 yards in those blowouts, breezing past defenses that ranked 123rd, 122nd and 107th in the country, respectively.
When the Eagles face last-place Cal Poly (2-7, 1-5) Saturday in sunny San Luis Obispo, California, they’ll take on a Mustangs defense that ranks 110th (460 yards allowed per game).
But Cal Poly doesn’t rely on its linebackers and secondary to keep the ball out of the hands of rival offenses.
It’s the Mustangs’ slow, methodical, grind-it-out triple-option attack that keeps opponents on the sidelines, using an assortment of hard-running ball carriers and a run-first quarterback.
In a Big Sky Conference that features some of the country’s more open, high-scoring offenses, Cal Poly is the old-school anomaly.
It’s a change of pace for EWU safety and leading tackler Dehonta Hayes (105 tackles) and a defense that didn’t surrender a touchdown last week at swooning Idaho State.
“It’s Week 11, so we’ve gone 10 weeks without seeing anything like this,” Hayes said. “You see all these spread offenses, and then we face a triple-option. It’s a big difference.
“It’s all about details, discipline and knowing your techniques, where your eyes are supposed to be and what you need to pay attention to.”
EWU yielded an average of 417 rushing yards against Cal Poly in the teams’ past three meetings, which didn’t matter in the Eagles’ 70-17 rout of the Mustangs in Cheney last year.
The Eagles haven’t fallen to Cal Poly since 2005, before the Mustangs were a member of the Big Sky.
When the Eagles – whose No. 1 offense is averaging 524 yards a game – faces Cal Poly, the Mustangs will boast the country’s 11th-ranked running game (225.7 rushing yards per game).
Duy Tran-Sampson (813 rushing yards) and quarterback Jalen Hamler (424 yards) pace Cal Poly’s running game. Hamler has passed for 1,052 yards.
“You get five days to prepare for (the triple-option offense) all season, and that’s what makes it difficult,” EWU head coach Aaron Best said.
Cal Poly’s lone Big Sky win was a 24-21 decision against fellow last-place club Southern Utah. But Cal Poly has played tough at home, taking 10th-ranked Montana State to overtime in a 34-28 loss and also falling 30-26 to North Dakota, which has been in and out of the Top 25.
With two games left on the regular schedule, EWU is aiming for the program’s 13th straight winning season.
EWU junior quarterback Eric Barriers has been key in that pursuit, winning Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week distinction the last two weeks after totaling 773 passing yards and six touchdowns, and 168 rushing yards and a touchdown.
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