A few weeks ago, when Cheney hit nearly 100, the coaches reminded the football players in Eastern Washington that they better get used to it.
They warned that it would be hot in Fresno.
Sure enough, Saturday’s forecast points to temperatures around 90 degrees when the Eagles continue their season against the Fresno State Bulldogs at 6 p.m. in CA.
But the heat isn’t the only challenge this game presents. After losing to a dominant North Dakota State team last weekend, the Eagles now face the challenge of beating a team that loves to throw.
“That’s a whole different can of worms when you’re talking about offense,” said EWU coach Aaron Best.
Last week, for example, Fresno State’s sophomore quarterback Mickey Keane completed 31 of 44 pass attempts for 366 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. They ran the ball 37 times but penetrated an average of 3.1 yards per segment play to 116 in the game. The Bulldogs won in Purdue, 39-35.
It was hardly the first offense for the second-ranked Bison, who finished with 337 on 39 attempts—an average of 8.6 yards per rush.
“They’re two tough teams,” EWU linebacker Jacob Newsom said Monday. “Fresno is looking to get the ball to the athletes and put them in space, while NSDU (said) ‘we’re going to run into that gap, and there’s nothing you can do about it.'”
This is also the Eagles’ second consecutive “guarantee” game: they took the $200,000 NDSU game and will get $300,000 for it.
The duo will shy away from the payments the team received last year for games in Oregon ($635,000) and Florida ($750,000), but the trade-off is less travel and only having to play with one FBS team, this Fresno team, instead of these two. Two Power 5 schools. Next season, EWU is set to play again FBS: Nevada, another MWC team, for a $400,000 guarantee.
Dating back to last year, Fresno State has won 10 games in a row. As a program, it has won its last 17 games against FCS opponents, including a 35-7 victory over Cal Poly in the Bulldogs’ 2022 home opener.
There is also a lot of familiarity between the two programs. The most recent coaching position held by current Fresno State offensive coordinator Pat McCann and linebackers coach Aaron Breyer came at Eastern Washington.
Hired this summer, EWU Director of Athletics Tim Collins was the Senior Associate Athletic Director of Development at Fresno State from 2018 to 2023. Defensive end DaMarcus Johnson, now a senior at EWU, played his previous three years at Fresno State.
Offensively, Eastern Washington is looking to get its offense back on track after scoring 10 points and blocking a field goal against NDSU. The Eagles put up 339 yards on the Bison, which last year allowed only six of 15 opponents to accumulate at least that many. They also only delivered the ball once, in the last game of the first half which was at no real cost.
But the Eagles also got into the red just once throughout the match, recording 5 downs out of 17 and scoring seven times.
The Fresno State defense is a veteran group, with 10 starting seniors and three others listed as backups. Last year the Bulldogs allowed the second-fewest points (19.4 per game) and fourth-fewest yards (339.8) in the Mountain West.
Purdue gained 363 yards against Fresno State last week, but the Big Ten’s Boilermakers were 2-for-12 in the third and only once put together consecutive scoring drives on their home court. Now the Bulldogs can play at home, where they won 5-1 last year.
“Kudos to Coach Pat[McCann],” Best said. “Anytime you defeat a Power 5 opponent, it’s a big deal.”
However, the Eagles are keen for a chance to build on what they did last week, seeking their first victory over an FBS team since beating MVC UNLV 35-33 in overtime two years ago in Las Vegas.
“We’re going to support a few things,” Best said. “Nothing’s going to be perfect. But we’ll continue to see who we are collectively and then we’ll be by the middle and end part of the year. I’m excited for these guys and the opportunity they had on Saturday night.