Today’s Idaho-Eastern Washington football game at the Kibbie Dome does not count in the Big Sky Conference standings.
That’s because the two teams were not scheduled to play in conference play this season, when the eight conference games for the league’s 13 teams were announced. The teams then booked the game as part of their nonconference slates.
But that makes the game no less important in the region, especially, apparently, in Moscow.
“We haven’t had this type of energy around the building for this kind of game for a long time,” Idaho fifth-year senior quarterback Mason Petrino said.
Last year, in Idaho’s return to the Big Sky for the first time since 1995, Eastern toyed with the Vandals in a 38-14 victory in Cheney.
The biggest culprit for the Eagles was quarterback Eric Barriere. The then-redshirt sophomore passed for 326 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 70 yards and another score.
After that game, and other games against mobile quarterbacks who gouged Idaho last year, the Vandals set out to improve their defense against the Sky’s more wide-open offense.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino said the Vandals (1-2) “are better equipped” to face a group like Barriere and Eastern (1-2) this season.
“I think it all starts up front,” Petrino said. “If we can do a good job of pushing the pocket inside, and closing it on the outside ... I think our guys are flying around, we’re tackling better.
“We’ll find out this week, because you don’t get any more mobile than him. He’s a playmaker. He’s a great player, really makes things happen with his feet and his arm. We’ll find out, that’s for sure.”
This year, Barriere leads FCS with 11 touchdown passes, and is fourth in passing at 342.3 yards per game and seventh in total offense (347.0).
“One of the most important things is having someone accounting for him all the time ... making sure he doesn’t scramble for 10-20 yards,” Idaho linebacker Christian Elliss said.
Also of concern on offense for Eastern, ranked No. 11 in FCS, is running back Antoine Custer Jr., and wide receiver/kickoff returner Dre’ Sonte Dorton.
“I think our best defense will be our offense staying on the field,” Petrino said. “We’d like to see him (Barriere) standing on the sideline as much as possible.”
“We just have to match their intensity,” Mason Petrino said. “They just out-hit us last year, and punished us.”