Following a 72-7 no-holds-barred victory over Mississippi Valley State, the No. 2 ranked North Dakota State Bison will travel to Cheney, Wash. for a battle with the Eastern Washington Eagles. The clash of two of last year’s semi-finalists figures to be the top matchup of the year’s Big Sky/Missouri Valley Challenge Series.
The Eagles are currently dusting themselves off following a 56-10 road loss to Texas Tech University, a loss which saw them slide down two spots in the FCS Coaches’ Poll to No. 6 overall. EWU struggled to establish themselves in the game, one in which they felt they had the opportunity to upset the FBS side. Even though Texas Tech only took a 7-0 lead into the second quarter, they were able to seize momentum, taking an 18-point lead into halftime and never looking back.
Quarterback Gage Gubrud, the FCS leader in passing yards last year, struggled to consistently find his targets throughout the game. Gubrud threw for only 207 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Most concerning for Eastern Washington was their lack of big plays, the longest being a 28-yard reception by wide receiver Terence Grady. Grady proved a bright spot in the game, racking up 98 yards and a receiving touchdown.
While the Eagles’ offense struggled to find their footing, the Bison exploded for 683 total yards. Though another week of video-game numbers is unreasonable to expect against an opponent like Eastern Washington, NDSU showcased that they certainly have the capability to score at will, which will be vital against the Eagles. Last year’s meeting between the two teams was one of the best non-conference games of the season. In a game that tilted back and forth NDSU ultimately outlasted EWU 50-44 in overtime.
In spite last week’s lopsided scorelines, this week’s game certainly will not be easy for the Bison. Eastern Washington’s offense, which looked hapless against the Red Raiders, is still one of the top units in the FCS. That being said, they are a unit in transition.
Gubrud remains to steward the offense, but receivers Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne, have moved on to the NFL. Kupp was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in May. Bourne meanwhile made the 49ers final roster as an undrafted free agent.
Beyond the players, the coaching staff has also been reshuffled, head coach Aaron Best and offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder beginning their first seasons at their positions.
For the Bison to leave Roos Field with a victory, they will need to cut down on the number of penalties against them. NDSU looked undisciplined at points against the Delta Devils, having 10 penalties called against them, giving away 80 yards.
Disciplined play has always been a staple for the Bison, and they will need to play a clean game against Eastern Washington to win. The Bison can ill-afford to give away yards against an opportunistic Eagles team that is always a threat for a big play.
An additional concern for the Bison will be injuries. Left tackle Dillon Radunz and running back Demaris Purifoy both suffered torn ACLs in the victory over Mississippi Valley State. Radunz’s season-ending injury is a crushing loss for an offensive line that is in a state of turnover.
A hostile environment awaits the Bison in Cheney, but NDSU is catching EWU at a good time. The Bison are confident after opening the season with a win, and the Eagles are trying to find their form. Still, any game played on the Eagles’ iconic red field will always be a challenge, especially considering that the Eagles will seek to avenge their loss from last year. It all comes together for an intriguing matchup.