Washington State didn’t fare so well the last time it hosted its challenging neighbor Eastern Washington.
The FCS school, which has been favored to win the Big Sky Conference this year, upset the Cougars 45-42 on their home field in 2016.
Both are rolling at 2-0 as they prepare to meet in Pullman again on Saturday.
Washington State coach Mike Leach said he doesn’t dwell on that last meeting. “You’ve got to move forward if you want to be really good,” Leach said.
Not that he doesn’t respect what Eastern Washington brings to the field.
“They always have some talented players,” Leach said. “They are well-coached and have a good tradition and put a good product on the field.”
Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud was making his first start during that game two years ago and he threw for 474 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 77 yards and another score. He is back to try again.
“We’ll ride him as long as we can,” EWU coach Aaron Best said. “You are only as good as your quarterback, no matter what offense you run.”
The Eagles lead the FCS with an average of 623 yards of offense per game. They’re also showing improvement over last year’s porous defense.
Washington State ranks second in defense in the FBS, allowing just 157 yards per game.
Meanwhile, graduate transfer Gardner Minshew II has quickly picked up the Air Raid offense, averaging 366 passing yards in Washington State’s first two games.
Some things to watch when the Cougars and Eagles meet again:
HOWDY NEIGHBOR; While the two schools are located only 90 miles apart, this is just the fifth time they have met. But it is the third time since 2012. Washington State won the first three games.
SEEING RED: Eastern Washington’s home field in Cheney has distinctive fire-engine red turf, and Leach is not a fan. “I’m glad I don’t have to watch practice on the bright red turf every day,” Leach said. “I’m sure they have pretty strong eyes over there at Eastern after doing that.” The red turf was installed a decade ago and the goal was to bring the Eagles some notoriety, similar to what blue turf did for Boise State. Leach said he prefers natural grass to artificial turf.
BRING ‘EM ON: The Eagles clearly aren’t reluctant to mix it up with Power Five teams. Eastern Washington is scheduled to play at Washington next season, at Florida in 2020 and at Oregon in 2022.
FOURTH DOWN SUCCESS: In just two games, Washington State has converted seven of nine fourth-down attempts, best in the FBS. Of course, that means the Cougars are pretty bad on third down conversions, making just seven of 28. “We need to be a better third-down team,” Leach said.
LEACH RECORD: Mike Leach has a 40-38 record at Washington State in his seventh season. He ranks fourth in wins in program history, and is closing in on Jim Walden’s third place mark of 44 wins. He is also seeking to become the first coach to lead WSU to four consecutive bowl games.