The Idaho Vandals head across the border to take on one of the most dominant FCS teams in recent memory, the Eastern Washington Eagles, on Saturday from Roos Field in Cheney, Washington. The Vandals come into Saturday’s Big Sky Conference showdown sitting at 2-2, while the Eagles are 4-1, dropping their only game to this same Idaho team back on February 27th. The game saw Idaho win 28-21, despite playing second-fiddle across most of the statistics in all but the final score. Both teams have their hopes set on the postseason, but Eastern Washington specifically knows that getting swept by Idaho isn’t an option to find success this year.
Vandals Looking For Season SweepIdaho has struggled to find much consistency this year, sitting at 2-2 with wins over Southern Utah and Eastern Washington, while losing to Idaho State and UC Davis. Paul Petrino has done a solid job turning around the Vandal program and to beat a top-ten Eastern Washington team would do wonders to the trajectory of the program. Idaho finds itself garnering 10 votes in the FCS Top 25 poll, which is good for an overall ranking of 30th. Idaho hasn’t been to the FCS Playoffs since 1995, and while this year still might be difficult even with a win on Saturday, the program is clearly in the right space to at least be considered in the conversation.
The Vandals are led by former UConn signal-caller, Mike Beaudry, at quarterback. In his first year as a starter, he’s started three games including the first matchup with the Eagles. In February’s meeting, he threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw an interception, then followed that up with two interceptions in a loss to UC Davis. Beaudry only threw the ball nine times last week against Idaho State and it’ll be interesting to see how the quarterback room shakes out in Saturday’s game. The ground game is led by fifth-year senior Dylan Thigpen. While he doesn’t get the majority of the reps, he has big-play potential and is aided by every-down backs Roshaun Johnson and Nick Romano. Hayden Hatten might only be a sophomore but has already established himself as one of the best receivers in not only the Big Sky Conference but in the entire country. Across four games, he has 35 catches for 462 yards and three touchdowns and caught six balls for 138 yards and a touchdown against Eastern Washington in the first matchup.
In the first meeting with the Eagles, Idaho forced two turnovers which proved to be a huge difference, even though they threw a pick-six of their own. Idaho was outrushed and out-thrown, but still found a way to stay close in time of possession which helped keep the Eastern Washington offense off the field. In the first meeting, the Vandals were able to build up long drives and then get touchdowns as opposed to field goals to keep pace and will need that same level of execution on Saturday.
Eagles Are SoaringEver since the opening loss to Idaho, Eastern Washington has been on a mission. Aaron Best’s squad has won four games in a row, by an average margin of just over 24 points per game, and looks primed to make a run towards the FCS Playoffs. The Eagles have found themselves as the National Runner Up twice since 2010, including just being two years removed from their last National Championship Game appearance, a loss to North Dakota State. Eastern Washington comes into this game ranked 9th in the FCS Top 25, but a second loss to Idaho will surely see them take a tumble and all but wave their postseason aspirations goodbye.
The Eagles are led at quarterback by the experienced Eric Barriere, who finished 2019 5th in the National Player of the Year voting and was a third-team All-American. Barriere has thrown for 1883 passing yards on the year for 16 touchdowns and six interceptions and had 339 yards in the first meeting with Idaho. Barriere’s dual-threat ability has really taken a back-seat this year, with only 95 yards on the ground and 3.2 yards per carry. Tamarick Pierce has had sole possession of the starting spot and had a great game in the first matchup with Idaho, topping 100 yards and getting into the end zone twice. On the season he has 366 yards total and will need to control the game early so that Eastern Washington can grind out long possessions and wear away at the Idaho defense. As of Barriere and Pierce weren’t enough, the Eagles also have one of the best wide receivers west of the Mississippi River, with Talolo Limu-Jones (40 catches, 580 yards, three touchdowns) to stretch Idaho’s defense downfield.
The Eagles will look to get the offense rolling early and often on Saturday and put the pressure on Idaho to keep up pace with them. In the first meeting, they outpaced the Vandals across all statistics except turnovers, which ended up hurting them. If the Eagles can take care of the ball and Barriere can give the defense a few different looks and dimensions, the offense should continue to roll along as it has done in the last few weeks.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Barriere is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and loads of experience and the Eagles’ offense continues to roll since the opening loss. Eastern Washington has been one of the most consistent teams in the country over the last few years and to beat them twice in one season would be unheard of, especially against a team like Idaho who isn’t exactly the cream of the crop in FCS. Idaho still has some quarterback questions as well and it’s unsure who exactly will be taking the majority of the snaps. The Eagles also have the home-field advantage and a distinct athletic advantage at most positions and will have no problem getting revenge in the rematch.
Full-Game Total Pick
Eastern Washington’s offense is rolling of late and even in the first game of the year, with both offenses a little, rusty, there were 49 combined points. The Eagles have been hitting near that total on their own and Idaho will at least have the ability to move the ball on some drives and put some points up themselves. With the FCS Playoffs at stake, expect Eastern Washington not to take their foot off the gas to help improve their seeding and rankings and for points to be filling up the scoreboard on Saturday.