Tailgate Talk

Preview: Eastern Washington in national spotlight for opener

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The college football season begins Saturday in Cheney, not just for Eastern Washington but the entire nation.

ESPN will showcase Eastern’s game vs. Sam Houston State in the inaugural FCS Showcase at 12:35 p.m. It’s the only college game nationwide this weekend.

For fans of the Football Championship Subdivision, this should be a doozy. Eastern enters the season ranked No. 1 nationally with one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Vernon Adams Jr., a Walter Payton Award runner-up last year.

Adams is aided by sophomore Cooper Kupp, who set an FCS record last year with TD receptions in his first 14 games. He led the nation with 21 TD catches en route to winning the Jerry Rice Award as the best receiver in FCS. He caught 93 passes last season, averaging 18.2 yards per catch.

Sam Houston State is ranked No. 17, but has beaten Eastern each of the past two seasons. Last year, the Bearkats rushed for 450 yards in a 49-34 win. The previous year, Eastern lost to Sam Houston State in the FCS semifinals 45-42, despite trailing 35-0 at halftime.

The Bearkats have a first-year coach in K.C. Keeler and are trying to replace key playmakers. Sophomore Jared Johnson will try to fill the big shoes of Brian Bell, Sam Houston State’s all-time winningest quarterback. All-American running back Timothy Flanders has graduated, opening the door for senior Keyshawn Hill, who totaled 2,312 all-purpose yards over three years.

No. 17 Sam Houston State at No. 1 Eastern Washington

When: 12:35 p.m. Saturday at Roos Field, Cheney.

TV/radio: ESPN, ESPN3, No local radio but broadcast will stream at http://700espn.com

Key to game: Sam Houston State has typically run the ball very well, ranking No. 6 in FCS last season with 265.0 yards per game. The Bearkats must run the ball to neutralize Adams and Eastern’s potent offense, which had the nation’s fourth-best offense last season at 533.5 yards per game. That puts pressure on an Eastern defense led by linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, whose 361 career tackles ranks third in school history. Keep the ball in Adams’ hands and Eastern should be just fine.

Local angle: Redshirt freshman Roldan Alcobendas (Camas) will make his debut as Eastern’s placekicker. Fellow Camas grads Reilly Hennessey (QB) and Zach Eagle (WR), both true freshman, are on the roster. Union grad T.J. Boatright, a junior, is backup offensive tackle. Redshirt freshman William LopezĀ  (Skyview) is also on Eastern’s roster as backup tight end.

Quotable: “Obviously there are nerves too, and if you have nerves that means you care. It’s exciting, and I’m always excited about these opportunities. Every team gets to this point in camp where you need to play somebody else.” EWU coach Beau Baldwin.

Prediction: Eastern Washington 45-24

Micah Rice

Columbian Sports Editor Micah Rice is the author of Tailgate Talk: College football from a Clark County perspective.

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