BOZEMAN — Cooper Kupp’s numbers in three career games against Montana State are staggering: 29 receptions for 453 yards and six touchdowns.
But, as Bobcats coach Jeff Choate said this week, “He’s done it to everybody.”
It’s no secret that Kupp has been dominating defenses at Eastern Washington throughout his career. Now a senior, Kupp owns 11 Football Championship Subdivision records and eight all-time Big Sky Conference marks.
Kupp missed time earlier in the season with a shoulder injury, but is averaging 142 receiving yards per game and has scored seven touchdowns. When he leaves Eastern Washington, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Kupp will unequivocally be regarded as one of the best players in FCS history.
“He might be the best receiver I’ve seen on film in five years,” Choate said. “And I’m not talking about just catching the ball. You watch this guy when he’s away from the ball. His route-running, the way he blocks ... he’s a pro right now.”
Kupp could have left EWU after his junior season and taken his shot at the NFL, but he returned for his final year of eligibility out of loyalty to coach Beau Baldwin and the opportunity to chase greater team achievement.
After starting 6-2, the Eagles lost their final three games of the 2015 season and missed the playoffs. That outcome motivated Kupp and his teammates to make things right this year.
Right now, EWU is 5-1 overall, 3-0 in the Big Sky and ranked No. 3 in the STATS Top 25 poll.
“It’s been a mantra here. We’re a winning program, and the coaches and the guys that come before us, there’s expectations to win,” Kupp said Tuesday in a phone interview. “So for last year to end the way it did was obviously disappointing. But nothing changed. This is kind of what we expect to do. That part of our mentality never changed.”
The Eagles have won four in a row over the Bobcats. With Kupp playing a key role, EWU scored 54, 52 and 55 points versus MSU in the past three seasons.
And Kupp’s numbers have gotten incrementally better each year. Last season in a 55-50 shooting victory in Cheney, Wash., Kupp had 12 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
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Kupp said playing against the Bobcats has been “a blast,” and it’s clear why. Choate won't try to sugar coat the problems Eastern's offense poses.
“They’re going to get their yards. I’m just going to tell you right now,” Choate said. “They’re going to get their yards and they’re going to score points, because they do it against everybody. It doesn’t matter who it is. They find a way to operate.
“What you have to do is you’ve got to tackle in space. You can’t let them catch slants and go 80 (yards), you can’t let them run their quarterback power and crease you for 60. A first down? That’s alright. Let’s make them line up and do it all the way down the field.”
Quarterback Gage Gubrud, just a sophomore, is the latest in a line of great quarterbacks produced by EWU coach Beau Baldwin. Gubrud is completing 70 percent of his throws, leads the nation in passing yards and ranks second in touchdowns.
And Gubrud doesn’t just throw to Kupp. Receivers Shaq Hill and Kendrick Bourne have 11 touchdown catches between them.
If that weren’t enough, Gubrud also leads the Eagles with 354 rushing yards.
“Obviously he’s having a great year. Very efficient. He’s doing a great job,” Kupp said of Gubrud. “The numbers speak for themselves. What he’s doing off the field, the leadership he’s showing and the way he’s attacking each practice is a big deal.”
The Bobcats's defense will be faced with a dilemma when Eastern Washington comes calling Saturday.
“Pick your poison,” Choate said. “Are you going to max drop (in coverage) to try to take care of all these great receivers they have and open up running lanes underneath? Or are you going to try to pressure (Gubrud) and let him get one-on-one coverage on guys like those three receivers?
“Offensively, (they) might be as good a team as I’ve seen just in terms of how they execute and operate.”