Big Damm Preview: Game 6 – Idaho vs. #2 Eastern Washington

It’s the rubber match! For the third time in 2021, the Idaho Vandals take on the Eastern Washington Eagles.

Last Game:
On Homecoming weekend, Idaho beat Portland State 42-35, narrowly hanging on after taking a 35-7 lead near the end of the second quarter.

Undefeated Eastern Washington led from start to finish in a 63-17 drubbing of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

Last Matchup(s):
February 27th, 2021 – Idaho came back from a 14-0 deficit to win 28-21 in the spring season opener. Eagle kicker Seth Harrison famously “missed” a field goal thanks to the dangerous combination of the Kibbie Dome scoreboard and an official struggling with mask protocols.

April 10th, 2021 – Eastern Washington got revenge on the red, winning 38-31 on a windy day where Zach Borisch got his first start at quarterback and rushed for over 200 yards.

Quarterbacks:
Another week, another question mark at quarterback for Idaho! Will we see Zach Borisch get another start against EWU, or will Mike Beaudry be healthy enough to play? If Beaudry is out, who will be Borisch’s backup?

Against Portland State, Idaho threw the ball only 16 times, led by Mike Beaudry’s 10 for 15 with 162 yards and a TD. Beaudry also chipped in 26 net yards on the ground. The Vandals finally #LetBorischThrow, who threw one pass, a 46 yard TD to Dalton Cash. Borisch rushed 16 times for 83 yards and a TD. On the final Vandal possession, Beaudry converted a 4th down pass to essentially seal the game for Idaho, but was injured and replaced by Borisch. Rather than kneel the ball and claim victory, Idaho chose to attempt to score a touchdown. Borisch fumbled and Portland State ended up with a failed Hail Mary attempt to tie the game in the closing seconds. Paul Petrino said after the game that they hadn’t practiced the victory formation with Borisch, so they opted to run the ball. If the Vandals are in a victory formation situation again this week, we’ll see if they have decided to practice the kneel.

Eric Barriere is having yet another Walter Payton Award caliber season, currently completing over 68% of his passes (168 for 245) for 2467 yards, 21 TDs, and 5 INTs. Barriere leads the Big Sky Conference in every passing category, and leads the country in completion percentage, yards, and TDs. His average of 411.2 yards per game leads the Big Sky by more than 100 yards.

Idaho’s Key Players/Statistics:
Terez Traynor once again led the receiving core, with five receptions for 114 yards and a TD; but it was the Vandal running game that stole the show last week, averaging 6.1 yards per carry on their way to 236 net yards. Borisch’s output led the team, while Aundre Carter continued his resurgence with 68 yards and two TDs off of just four carries. Roshaun Johnson added nine carries for 36 yards and a TD. Borisch, Carter, Johnson, and Elisha Cummings all have triple digit rushing output on the season and each average over five yards a carry.

Tre Walker had a typical Tre Walker game, leading the team with 18 total tackles and a forced fumble. Walker is currently fourth in the Big Sky Conference in tackles per game. With Fa’Avae Fa’Avae out last week, Hogan Hatten took advantage of the added playing time, with ten tackles and a tackle for loss. Marcus Harris forced a fumble, and Charles Akanno added a sack for the second week in a row.

Eastern Washington’s Key Players/Statistics:
While Eric Barriere might be the focal point of the Eagle offense, running back Dennis Merritt’s 92.7 rushing yards per game is good for third in the Big Sky Conference. Merritt has an incredible 11 rushing TDs in just six games, and averages 5.3 yards per carry. Merritt’s 13 total TDs is first in the entire FCS. EWU boasts a deep receiving core led by perennial All-Big Sky talent Talolo Limu-Jones, who leads the Big Sky Conference with 115.2 yards per game. Limu-Jones was injured in Eastern Washington’s win against Montana and missed last week’s game against Northern Colorado, but is listed as a starter on the two-deep against Idaho. With or without Limu-Jones, the Eagles still trot out three receivers that average over 50 yards per game in Andrew Boston, Freddie Roberson, and Efton Chism III. Boston and Roberson start opposite Limu-Jones, with Chism III serving as TLJ’s backup. Seventh-year senior (and perennial All-Big Sky lineman) Tristen Taylor protects Barriere’s blind side.

2021 Preseason All-Big Sky Conference defensive end Mitchell Johnson is the “name” on the EWU defense, but a pair of players with Vandal connections power the group. Linebacker (and former Vandal from 2016-2018) Ty Graham leads EWU’s defense with 59 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks and an INT. Safety Calin Criner, son of former Vandal defensive coordinator Mark Criner, heads the secondary with 35 tackles, while also adding an INT and a forced fumble. Cornerback Tre Weed was named second team All-Big Sky Conference in the spring season.

Coeur d’Alene native Seth Harrison is still kicking for the Eagles, but after going a perfect 12-for-12 in 2019, he has gone just 12-for-18 since the infamous “miss” in the Kibbie Dome.

Key to the Game:
Last week was a tale of two halves for Idaho, with an outstanding first half overshadowed by a near-collapse in the second half. The Vandals need to look much more like the first half team that ran the ball at will, scored a ton, and constantly pressured Davis Alexander.

Game Predictions:
Producer Dallas: In 2018, Idaho went down 31-0 at halftime in Cheney on the way to a 38-14 loss. In 2021’s spring season, Idaho unveiled the read option with Zach Borisch and lost 38-31 after a fourth quarter comeback by the Eagles. Idaho won’t catch EWU off guard with a brand new offense this time. The Eagles are a more physical team this year than the last few seasons, and their receivers are a nightmare for a weaker Idaho secondary. EWU grabs a big lead early and does not let off the gas, winning 56-21. [editor’s note: This prediction was made with the expectation that Beaudry plays, Idaho uses their two QB system, and Beaudry has to try to throw the Vandals back into the game. If Beaudry is out, Idaho still loses, but keeps it considerably closer by virtue of Borisch primarily running the read option and chewing more clock.]
Boatman: EWU 38-28
Brian: EWU 42-28
Chris: EWU 30-26

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