#5 Eastern Washington 2018 FCS Football Preview

Eastern Washington Eagles
Overall Rank: #5
#1 Big Sky
 Eastern Washington Logo
Eastern Washington spent a rare postseason at home as the Eagles missed the FCS playoffs last season with a 7-4 record. Coach Aaron Best heads into his second season and things should go more smoothly now that the players have gone through a season with Best in charge. The Eagles have had 20 winning seasons in the last 22 so expectations are very high in Cheney and a trip back to the playoffs is expected by the fans.
2017 Record: 7-4, 6-2
2017 Postseason: None
Coach: Aaron Best (7-4 at Eastern Washington, 7-4 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Bodie Reeder
Defensive Coordinator: Jeff Schmedding
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Antoine Custer Jr., RB, 776 yards
Passing: Gabe Gubrud, QB, 3,342 yards
Receiving: Nsimba Webster, WR, 693 yards
Tackles: Mitch Fettig, DB, 92
Sacks: Dylan Ledbetter, DL, 4.5
Interceptions: Josh Lewis, DB, 3
Other Key Returnees: LB Kurt Calhoun, DB Cole Karstetter, DB Nzuzi Webster, LB Ketner Kupp, DL Keenan Williams, C Spencer Blackburn, WR Zach Eagle, WR Talolo Limu-Jones, OL Tristen Taylor, OL Chris Schlichting, K Roldan Alcobendas, RB Sam McPherson, S Tysen Prunty, DB D’londo Tucker
Key Losses: WR Nic Sblendorio, P Jordan Dascalo, DL Albert Havili
Scoring points and moving the football has never been a problem for Eastern Washington. Gabe Gubrud is back as the starting quarterback in 2018 after another a solid 2017 season. Gubrud completed 61.8 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,342 yards and 26 touchdown passes. One statistic for Gubrud that needs to improve is the amount of interceptions as he threw 12 interceptions in 2017. Antoine Custer Jr. will be the primary running back this season and will be on a mission to break 1,000 yards in 2018. Custer Jr. rushed for 776 yards and ten touchdowns last season. Sam McPherson will be in the mix as well at running back after rushing for 477 yards and making one start in 2017. Nsimba Webster leads a deep group of wide receivers that should put up big numbers in 2018. Spencer Blackburn is back at center and he will anchor a group of offensive linemen that will need to take a step forward to reestablish dominance up front.
It is going to start with forcing more turnovers for the Eagles on the defensive side of the ball. Eastern Washington intercepted just six passes in 2017 and that is a number that is way too low for a Big Sky defense. Offenses in the Big Sky love to throw the ball around a lot so there are plays to be made in the secondary. Mitch Fettig and Josh Lewis are back at safety and cornerback, respectively, and they are proven playmakers. The key for Fettig and Lewis will be to build off strong 2017 seasons while making the rest of the secondary better in the turnover battle. Dylan Ledbetter had a good 2017 season with 4.5 sacks and should have more chances for sacks with the graduation of Albert Havili. Defensive end Keenan Williams also has the potential to be a strong pass rusher as he had four sacks in 2017. Kurt Calhoun is a linebacker that can do a little of everything. Calhoun made 73 tackles, had three pass breakups, and collected 1.5 sacks last season.
The Bottom Line:
Eastern Washington will get an interesting matchup in their opener as they play Division II Central Washington. The Eagles should be able to wear down the Wildcats over the course of four quarters and start the season at 1-0. Northern Arizona will await Eastern Washington the following week for a game that doesn’t count in the Big Sky standings. However, a win against the Lumberjacks will be a nice resume builder for the FCS Playoff Selection Committee. The following week will provide the Eagles a shot at another win against an FBS school as they’ll make the short trip to play Washington State. Montana State and Weber State will be the two toughest road games in Big Sky play that do count and that is where doing a better job with turnovers will help Eastern Washington. Idaho visits the Eagles on October 27th in what will be the renewal of a fun regional rivalry. Overall, with the unbalanced Big Sky schedule in Eastern Washington’s favor they should go 7-1 in conference play and get back to the FCS Playoffs.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2017 Team Stats
Rushing Offense: 156.3 (58th in nation, 9th in conference)
Passing Offense: 320.5 (8, 2)
Total Offense: 476.7 (5, 2)
Scoring Offense: 34.5 (14, 3)
Rushing Defense: 192.6 (98, 8)
Pass Defense: 272.3 (118, 11)
Total Defense: 464.9 (115, 10)
Scoring Defense: 33.4 (104, 9)
Turnover Margin: -0.91 (105, 13)
Sacks: 2.55 (29, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 2.00 (56, 7)
HERO Sports 2018 Recruit Rankings:
#14 Tre Weed
#28 Anthony Stell
#108 Freddie Roberson
#139 Simon Burkett
#220 Darrien Sampson
#227 Micah Smith