BOZEMAN — Quarterback Gage Gubrud says 10th-ranked Eastern Washington is “still nowhere near where we want to be” at the midway point of the Big Sky Conference football season, which is hard to believe considering the way the Eagles have lit it up on offense in the past four weeks.
After a 0-2 start, Gubrud and the Eagles are now on a record-setting roll. Let the numbers do the explaining:
Sept. 16 at Fordham: Gubrud threw for 399 yards and accounted for five touchdowns in a 56-21 win. EWU’s offense piled up 650 yards, the first of three straight 600-yard performances.
Sept. 23 at Montana: Trailing by 18 points at halftime, Gubrud threw for 549 yards and accounted for five TDs as Eastern scored 42 second-half points in a 48-41 victory.
Sept. 30 vs. Sacramento State: Gubrud passed for 447 yards and five touchdowns in a 52-31 romp. He also caught a 43-yard TD pass from Sam McPherson.
Last week at UC Davis: The Eagles erased an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit, and Gubrud finished with 452 passing yards while throwing six touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:37 left for a 41-38 triumph.
Add it up, and Gubrud has thrown for a school-record 1,847 yards and 18 touchdowns in the past four weeks alone. He has passed for at least 399 yards in four consecutive games, another school mark.
How much better can Gubrud possibly be?
From Erik Meyer to Matt Nichols to Bo Levi Mitchell to Vernon Adams to Gubrud, the Eagles have boasted some of the best quarterbacks in the FCS in the past decade-plus. But Gubrud is putting on an aerial assault like none before him.
The junior from McMinnville, Oregon, leads the nation in passing yards (2,188), touchdown passes (19) and points responsible-for (146). He is completing 68 percent of his throws.
“We’re just playing with a lot of confidence out there,” Gubrud told reporters this week. “You also see us starting to come together a little bit every week.
“You see the receivers starting to know what we’re supposed to do a little bit more, coaches are getting more experience, and we’re getting more experience with each other. So I think all that combination of stuff has really been seen on the field.”
It wasn’t enough that the Eagles lost three NFL-caliber receivers from last year’s team in Cooper Kupp, Kendrick Bourne and Shaq Hill. They also lost head coach Beau Baldwin, who left to join the staff at Cal, and offensive coordinator Troy Taylor departed to take over the offense at Utah.
But new coach Aaron Best and first-year coordinator Bodie Reeder have made sure EWU remained potent.
Through six games, Gubrud has spread the ball to 15 different receivers. Nic Sblendorio and Nsimba Webster already have 88 receptions, 955 yards and five TDs between them.
“He’s just a really impressive kid,” Bobcats coach Jeff Choate said of Gubrud. “He knows exactly where to go with the football.
“They have a ton of capable players and they have a lot of really talented skill players on that roster in general, and you can see how his comfort level with some of those guys has started to emerge. They’ve really hit their stride offensively, without a question. They’re clicking on all cylinders. They really don’t look any different.”
Can the Bobcats implement a defensive plan sound enough to contain Gubrud and give themselves a chance to win Saturday? Countless teams have tied over the years, to minimal success.
The Eagles are bound to pile up yards and score points. But Bobcats safety Bryson McCabe said it’s a matter of beating them in specific situations.
“They’re going to make their plays. You see it week in and week out. It’s just, are we going to be able to swell up in the red zone? Are we going to be able to get off the field on third downs?” McCabe said. “Obviously you’re not going to make every play, you just have to make enough plays.”
“They’re going to spread us out and test the perimeter, for sure. We’re going to have to be really, really good on the perimeter,” defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak said. “We’re going to have to go play extremely well at linebacker and in the secondary against this outfit. And it still starts up front, so our defensive line is going to have to do a good job.
“We’ve got to do a good job of mixing and matching things up front and then in the back end we have to do a great job disguising all day.”
The Bobcats have lost five in a row to EWU. The Eagles scored 202 points combined in the previous four meetings.
Also of note: Eastern has won 11 consecutive conference games.