#10 Eastern Washington FCS Football 2021 Preview

Eastern Washington Eagles
Overall Rank: #10
#3 Big Sky
 Eastern Washington Logo
Eastern Washington got off to a slow start in the spring, losing 28-21 at Idaho, but Coach Aaron Best rallied his team to five straight wins heading into the playoffs. The Eagles got a tough draw in the playoffs and lost at North Dakota State, but with every starter returning and most of the depth as well, Eastern Washington is poised to get another shot in the playoffs.
2020-21 Record: 5-2, 5-1
2020-21 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Aaron Best (31-14 at Eastern Washington, 31-14 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Ian Shoemaker
Defensive Coordinator: Eti Ena
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Tamarick Pierce, RB, 462 yards
Passing: Eric Barriere, QB, 2,439 yards
Receiving: Talolo Limu-Jones, WR, 759 yards
Tackles: Anthany Smith, DB, 44
Sacks: Joshua Jerome, DL, 3.0
Interceptions: Mitchell Johnson, DL, 2
Other Key Returnees: RB Dennis Merritt, WR Freddie Roberson, WR Andrew Boston, OL Tristen Taylor, OL Wyatt Musser, LB Ty Graham, DB Ely Doyle, DL Jacob Newsom, DB Tre Weed, K Seth Harrison
Key Losses: None
Eric Barriere finished second in the voting for the Walter Payton Award. He may get first if 2021 goes as expected. The senior signal caller threw for 2,439 yards and 19 touchdowns in seven games in the spring. That is an average of over 348 yards per game. In 2019 he averaged 309.3 passing yards per game, threw for 31 touchdowns and ran for eight more. Behind a strong offensive line, led by Tristen Taylor, Barriere will look to improve on those already gaudy numbers in 2021. Talolo Limu-Jones was Barriere’s favorite target last season, catching 48 passes for 759 yards and four touchdowns. Freddie Roberson and Andrew Boston are also back and Barriere will be able to spread the ball around. EWU is not going to run the ball too much, but Tamarick Pierce and Dennis Merriett have proven that they can take advantage of their opportunities.
Eastern Washington boasted a decent defense in the spring and ranked second in the Big Sky in pass defense. Mitchell Johnson and Joshua Jerome are solid linemen, but the team as a whole could do better when it comes to getting into the backfield. This is the pass happy Big Sky so getting to the quarterback is extremely important. That could make the experienced secondary even more productive. It would also lead to more turnovers and a boost in the turnover margin could make all the difference in a shootout.
The Bottom Line:
This will be a fun year in the Big Sky. With the limited schedule and some teams sitting out, 2020 did not provide a great indication of what the Big Sky can do. In terms of talent, Weber State and Montana are top ten teams and Eastern Washington is right there with them. The Eagles offense will certainly hit the ground running, but if the defense can make a few more big plays, Eastern Washington will be a very dangerous team in the Big Sky and the playoffs.
Projected Postseason:  FCS Playoffs
2020-21 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 158.0 (36th in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 368.6 (4, 1)
Total Offense: 526.6 (3, 1)
Scoring Offense: 37.7 (7, 2)
Rushing Defense: 196.9 (77, 8)
Pass Defense: 185.9 (34, 2)
Total Defense: 382.7 (65, 4)
Scoring Defense: 26.9 (56, 5)
Turnover Margin: -0.29 (64, 8)
Sacks: 1.86 (55, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 1.71 (31, 5)