#3 Eastern Washington FCS Football 2019 Preview

Eastern Washington Eagles
Overall Rank: #3
#1 Big Sky
 Eastern Washington Logo
Eastern Washington made it back to the national championship game last season. It was their first appearance since winning it all back in 2010. The Eagles stayed at home through the playoffs, knocking off Nicholls, UC Davis and Maine along the way. This time around the Eagles have the tools to do it again. There are some major pieces gone, but there is also a lot of experience on this roster and Coach Aaron Best will get the most out of them.
2018 Record: 12-3, 7-1
2018 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Aaron Best (19-7 at Eastern Washington, 19-71 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Ian Shoemaker
Defensive Coordinator: Eti Ena
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Antoine Custer, RB, 625 yards
Passing: Eric Barriere, QB, 2,450 yards
Receiving: Andrew Boston, WR, 531 yards
Tackles: Chris Ojoh, LB, 105
Sacks: Mitchell Johnson, DL, 4.5
Interceptions: Calin Criner, DB, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Tamarick Pierce, RB Dennis Merritt, WR Jayson Williams, OL Chis Schlichting, OL Kaleb Levao, OL Spencer Blackburn, DB Dehonta Hayes, DB Kedrick Johnson, DL Jim Townsend
Key Losses: RB Sam McPherson, QB Gage Gubrud, WR Nsimba Webster, DT Jay-Tee Tiuli, DE Keenan Williams, CB D’londo Tucker, CB Josh Lewis, LB Ketner Kupp, S Mitch Fettig, K/P Roland Alcobendas
Eric Barriere was forced into action last year because of an injury and he had a great season. As a sophomore he threw for 2,450 yards and 24 touchdowns with nine interceptions. That is not bad for somebody forced into action. Now Barriere has had an offseason to work as the starting quarterback. EWU will, once again, need to reload their skill positions. Nsimba Webster is gone after leading the Eagles with 84 receptions for 1,379 yards and 11 touchdowns. Andrew Boston and Jayson Williams are the top options to emerge as Barriere’s top threats out wide and tight end Jayce Gilder is a proven option in the red zone. The Eagles also have to replace running back Sam McPherson after he rushed for 1,510 yards and 13 touchdowns. Antoine Custer and Tamarick Pierce are more than capable of repeating that success. Do not be surprised if this is once again a top five offense in the FCS.
The Eagles defense really stepped up last season, allowing just 22.7 points per game. Only four starters are back, but there are a handful of other players with starting experience returning as well so the situation is not nearly as dire as it looks on paper. Dylan Ledbetter, Jim Townsend and Mitchell Johnson are a very good trio to build around on the defensive front. Johnson led the team with 4.5 sacks last season as a freshman off the bench. Chris Ojoh will lead the linebackers after totaling 105 tackles last season. The secondary is in good hands too, led by safety Dehonta Hayes. With Tysen Prunty, Calin Criner and Kedrick Johnson, there is plenty of experience in the secondary.
The Bottom Line:
If the defense can continue to improve, Eastern Washington will not just compete for a Big Sky title, but they will also push for a national championship. The Eagles will learn where they stand pretty early this season. Following games against Washington and Lindenwood, EWU faces off against Jacksonville State in a contest that could be a preview of a semifinal type of matchup in the playoffs. The conference slate does not include either Weber State or UC Davis. A trip to Montana on October 26th could be the toughest Big Sky game. If Eastern Washington can win that one, they could be looking at a perfect Big Sky season.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2018 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 255.9 (10th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 272.3 (20, 3)
Total Offense: 528.2 (3, 1)
Scoring Offense: 43.1 (4, 1)
Rushing Defense: 165.6 (53, 2)
Pass Defense: 226.9 (81, 7)
Total Defense: 392.5 (68, 3)
Scoring Defense: 22.7 (27, 2)
Turnover Margin: 0.67 (16, 2)
Sacks: 2.40 (35, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 1.60 (37, 5)
HERO Sports 2019 Recruit Rankings:
#37 Trey Edwards
#219 Soli Paleso'o
#289 Warren Hardin