BOZEMAN — In just a few short days the top two teams in the Big Sky Conference will be squaring off as No. 4 Montana State heads to Cheney, Washington to face off against No. 5 Eastern Washington. The Eagles are coming off an upset loss to Weber State and it only gets tougher from there, according to KREM sports director Brenna Greene.
“They're in the middle of a very difficult slate right now,” Greene said of EWU. “Started with Weber State, now you're onto Montana State. After that they play UC Davis. This is a huge span of their season for them and they really can’t afford to lose any other games.”
Quarterback Eric Barriere is the identity of the Eagles and rightfully so. He leads the FCS in passing yards (3,297), passing touchdowns (30) and passing efficiency (181.12).
“He’s the best FCS player in the country,” said Greene. “A few weeks ago against Idaho, there was legitimate talk online about, ‘Should we be talking about this guy for the Heisman?’”
Barriere has skilled receivers to throw to. He has two receivers in the top 30 for receiving yards in redshirt junior Andrew Boston (629) and redshirt senior Talolo Limu-Jones (608). Freshman Efton Chism III leads the team with six receiving touchdowns. Overall, EWU has five receivers with at least 300 receiving yards.
“He’s got a really deep receiving corps,” Greene said. “Eastern has really leaned into the fact that you have guys like Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne in the NFL right now. They’ve done a really good job of leaning into that and being like, ‘come here and play receiver and we can get you to the NFL.’ I think that has really helped their receiving corps.”
Redshirt senior Dennis Merritt is getting it done on the ground for the Eagles. The stocky running back has 663 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per carry and a whopping 13 rushing touchdowns, which is second in the FCS.
“He can definitely kind of run through the line, but he’s broken off some pretty big runs this year,” the KREM sports director said. “I wouldn’t say he’s not quick by any stretch of the imagination.”
The Eastern Washington defense is ranked 66th in scoring defense, but here’s a few players who stand out.
“They have a linebacker duo of (redshirt senior) Ty Graham and Jack Sendelbach that has just been incredible -- Calin Criner, one of their defensive backs, it’s basically those three in terms of tackling and then there’s just a huge drop off,” said Greene.
As for her prediction, Greene is picking the Eagles.
“I’m going 28-17,” she said.
One of these teams will go to 8-1 and the other to 7-2 as Montana State takes on EWU at 2 p.m. Saturday.