There is a big-time non-conference matchup set for this weekend at the FCS level of college football. Eastern Washington, who is number three in the latest coaches' poll, heads to Texas to take on Sam Houston State, who is number four.
The teams met last season in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs, with the game becoming an instant classic. EWU trailed 35-0 at halftime but came back to create a memorable game that saw them narrowly defeated by the Bearkats, 45-42.
The two teams haven't forgotten that game, and both come into this matchup looking to prove that they have what it takes to end North Dakota State's two-year run at the top of the FCS. Let's preview this huge matchup between two of the top teams in the FCS.
When: Saturday, September 28 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Where: Elliott T. Bowers Stadium in Huntsville, Texas
Eastern Washington's Season So Far
The Eagles are 2-1, with a 1-1 record on the road so far. They started off the season with a major 49-46 upset of Pac-12 team Oregon State that made national headlines. They then hosted Division II Western Oregon, winning easily, 43-14. They hit their first snag of the season last week at Toledo, where they lost 33-21.
Sam Houston State's Season So Far
The Bearkats are 3-1, with a 3-0 record at home so far. Their season started with a 74-0 shellacking of transitioning FCS independent Houston Baptist. Then came a 65-28 loss, which may sound bad, but considering that it was to Texas A&M, is actually not a big deal. SHSU followed up the loss with two home games, a 55-17 victory over SWAC team Texas Southern and a 52-21 win over another transitioning FCS independent, Incarnate Word.
Major Storylines For The Game
1. Will defense have any role in this game whatsoever? Both EWU and SHSU have prolific offenses, and defenses that don't do a whole lot usually. They both seem to live by the motto "the best defense is a good offense." The team whose defense can take a step forward in this game will likely be the team that comes away with the W.
2. Can the running games be stopped? For both teams, the ground game is a key part of the offense. The Bearkats' whole offense is predicated on it, as they run a unique form of the option. SHSU QB Brian Bell is decent with his arm, but it's his legs and his decision-making within the option that really drive this offense. SHSU is not a team that wants to have to rely on its passing game.
For EWU, QB Vernon Adams is one of the most explosive players in the country, as the nation witnessed when he put on a clinic against Oregon State. Last week, however, the Toledo Rockets figured out a way to slow Adams down. By limiting his ability to break out of the pocket and frequently make long runs, Toledo turned Adams into much more of a pro-style QB. Although he is still a terrific passer, Adams is at his best when able to act as a true dual-threat. In a game likely to turn into a shootout, limiting Adams at all could be a major game-changer.
3. Will home field advantage play a major role for SHSU? In a game between two evenly-matched teams, the crowd could be a factor. The game is likely to sell out, with over 14,000 Bearkat fans packing the stadium. If they can get loud enough to force a few penalties on EWU, it could be just enough to tip the balance in SHSU's favor.
Who will win this game?
EWU 49-SHSU 42. With all due respect to Tim Flanders, the Eagles have the most dynamic player on the field in Adams. He already proved against Oregon State that when he's on, EWU's offense is pretty much unstoppable. He should have no problem getting up for a game of this magnitude, which should give EWU the win in a shootout. The Bearkats had absolutely no answers for Adams in the second half of last season's semifinal matchup, and that will probably continue over into this game.