The Eastern Washington Eagles are known for something very dangerous in the FBS world: taking your money and then making you pay again. Perhaps the only team better known for this is their opponent next week, the North Dakota State Bison (that’s pronounce BYE-zin ... for some reason), who regularly beat teams from the upper division who dare to schedule them.
The Washington State Cougars, meanwhile, probably know better than almost anyone in the country why you shouldn’t overlook an FCS opponent. Their hyper-conservative play against what was supposed to be a God-awful Portland State team last year cost them big time, a 24-17 loss in the pouring rain in front of a minuscule Labor Day weekend crowd.
So WSU should, in theory, know what they have coming into Pullman on Saturday evening. Not only does EWU’s reputation precede them, they’re ranked #14 in the FCS before the start of the season and just a few years ago, the Cougs barely snuck by the Eagles and my wife was not at all pleased I was checking the score and using international roaming data at about 12:30 a.m. in Paris on our honeymoon (it’s a miracle I’m still married).
But EWU brings a weapon to Pullman with them they weren’t equipped with the last time they wandered down Highway 195. Cooper Kupp might be the best kept receiving secret in all of college football and that’s not hyperbole. All the 6’2”, 205 pound senior has done in his career is catch 311 passes for 4,764 yards and 56 touchdowns.
Those numbers hardly compute in the last iteration of NCAA Football EA Sports made, let alone in real life.
I don’t know a ton about the Eagles, the football team from Cheney or the band. But I do know that Cooper Kupp might be the most shining example of “you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.” Much of WSU’s success on defense, then, will fall on those charged with covering Kupp.
It’s why Darrien Molton and Treshon Broughton are our most important person(s).
Molton is a man you’ve probably already heard of ... maybe. He’s a classic case of not being thrown at much because, well, he’s pretty galdarn good. Molton sealed the ASU game with a diving pick and locked down virtually every receiver who lined up against him last year.
Broughton, though, is a relative unknown. He arrived late to campus last year after transferring from Riverside Community College and played sparingly throughout the year. But the senior corner began to emerge in the spring and especially fall camp, earning his way into the starting position over Robert Taylor with Marcellus Pippins, a good cornerback in his own right, moved to back up Molton.
What’s extra concerning about Saturday is the unknown status of Shalom Luani. Mike Leach is known for never publicly stating what punishments are doled out for offenses, be they legal or otherwise, committed by his players. Outside of violating one of his three rails, everything is always “handled internally”. So the soonest we’ll likely know whether Luani is playing or not is when the defense takes the field for the first time on Saturday ... or maybe even after that.
Not knowing if your best defensive back will be there adds pressure to the guys who will be depended on most to defend arguably the best receiver on this side of the Mississippi. Add in the fact that EWU isn’t exactly bereft of talent elsewhere on the offense and it means the Eags will probably be the second hardest test in the non-conference schedule.
It’s a big test right off the bat for Molton and Broughton, who will be getting his significant first game action in nearly two years. Eastern Washington is always a stiff test for FBS teams; Cooper Kupp makes defending a school-aged nightmare of taking a math exam in your underwear. Fingers crossed that when Molton and Broughton have their dream on Saturday, they’ve got a helmet and pads on ... and they’re playing football, not doing logarithms.
Darrien Molton and Treshon Broughton, your most important person(s) versus Eastern Washington.