OGDEN — Weber State football will play the proverbial strength-versus-strength matchup for its homecoming game this weekend. No. 4 Eastern Washington brings its high-flying, high-scoring offense to Ogden against the tough, turnover-forcing defense of the No. 13 Wildcats.
Eastern’s offense averages 45.3 points per game but, at least against FCS opponents, has yet to face a defense like Weber’s. The Eagles put up 70 points against Cal Poly and 55 last week against Southern Utah (both home games), while scoring 31 on the road at Northern Arizona in Week 2.
The mystery: Who will quarterback the Eagles in the matchup of ranked teams.
Gage Gubrud, the senior just shy of the 10,000-yard career passing mark, watched last week’s game in a boot as sophomore Eric Barriere threw 13 of 21 for 233 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 98 yards and two more scores. But Gubrud isn’t ruled out for this week’s game.
“He looked good, ran the ball well, threw it well,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said about Barriere. “Gubrud’s one of the best players in the league, so whether they can match him or not, I don’t know. But that doesn’t change our game plan, I think the offense is not going to change that much for them depending on who plays.”
That’s because Sam McPherson averages 110 rushing yards and Nsimba Webster hauls in 103 receiving yards per game, giving either Gubrud or Barriere plenty of muscle on offense.
The Eagles (5-1, 3-0 Big Sky) racked up 638 yards of offense in the 55-17 win over Southern Utah, a team that is giving up 40 points per game even when only accounting for its FCS opponents (SUU also gave up 48 and 62 in losses to Oregon State and Arizona).
Weber State (3-2, 1-1) is allowing 24.8 points per game. It has totaled 17 sacks, second-best in the Big Sky, while Eastern has allowed a league low four sacks. The Wildcats are plus-9 in turnover margin (first) while the Eagles are minus-3 (10th).
Aside from head-to-head matchups, WSU needs to find new life offensively, struggling to 16 offensive points last week (a fumble returned for a touchdown resulted in eight points) despite repeatedly getting outstanding field position in the third quarter.
“We’ve got to get the run game going. That’s obviously a big deal,” Hill said. “It’s kind of hard to get the run game going until we’re more efficient throwing the ball. That comes with completions, that comes with getting the ball down the field ... Our pass efficiency rating has got to go way up from where it’s at right now.”
While both Jake Constantine and Kaden Jenks each played plenty of snaps at quarterback, Hill said the plan was the same entering this week’s game: Constantine would start, Jenks would play as needed.
“So much of it depends on who’s hot. If a guy’s playing well, we’ll roll with him,” he said. “But one of those guys needs to step up and prove that they can put this team on their back and go.”
The game kicks off at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13. It is set to air on Eleven Sports Network, on WatchBigSky.com and on the Pluto TV app channel 235. A radio call with Steve Klauke and Jerry Graybeal will air on 1430 AM KLO.
Saturday’s loss to Northern Arizona was Weber’s first defeat since the season-opening thrashing at Utah, which now feels like a season ago.
“I think the practices have been good. I don’t see any hangovers from that game,” Hill said. “I think they’re disappointed in the NAU game, but they know what a good team is coming in with Eastern Washington. That will wake you up and get your attention and focus. I fully expect these guys will come back and play great.”
STRANGER TO OGDEN
No player on Eastern Washington’s roster has played in Ogden. The last time the Eagles played at WSU was more than six years ago, a 32-26 decision in the 2012 season.
Weber State trails the all-time series 19-15 but leads 8-7 in Ogden. The Wildcats have played Eastern twice in Hill’s tenure: a 14-13 road loss in 2015 and a 28-20 road win last season.
ODDS & PREDICTIONS
Betting service 5Dimes has Eastern Washington as a 4.5-point favorite in this game. Combining it with the over/under of 59, that line expects a 32-27 score.
Jeff Sagarin maintains a computer prediction and rating model for college football (once used in the BCS formula) that includes both FBS and FCS teams. Ratings can be used to mathematically provide a prediction for the game.
Weber State rates at No. 121 (out of 255 Division-I teams) and Eastern Washington is No. 78. Using the associated ratings and values for home-field advantage, Sagarin’s formula favors EWU by 6.7 points.