SPOKANE — Any chance that the Washington State University football team would look past Eastern Washington evaporated last week when the Eagles pounded Idaho.
As added incentive, Washington State (0-1) will be playing its first game today in the renovated Martin Stadium, which underwent a $65 million upgrade during the offseason that added premium seats and a new press box in a three-story addition.
Eastern Washington (1-0), an FCS power two years removed from a national championship, traveled to Idaho and beat the FBS Vandals 20-3 last week behind a stout defense and a passing attack led by former SMU starting quarterback Kyle Padron.
That caught WSU’s attention.
“We definitely are going into the game watching him,” Washington State defensive back Deone Bucannon said of Padron.
This is the first game since 1908 between the neighbors, whose campuses are 60 miles apart. WSU won the last meeting 73-0.
WSU coach Mike Leach said his Pacific-12 team can’t overlook anyone after opening the season with a 30-6 loss at BYU in which the Cougars failed to score a touchdown.
“We need to change our attitude and go out and play from one play to the next,” Leach said. “The emphasis will be on effort and focus.”
Leach coached against Eastern Washington when the Eagles played his Texas Tech team in the season opener in 2008. Texas Tech won that game 49-24.
“They throw it well.” Leach said. “They do a lot of things right and have for a long time.”
Eastern Washington has an 8-20 record against FBS teams over the years. But Washington State has never lost to an FCS school in 16 outings.
Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said he didn’t think his team’s win over Idaho put a bigger target on its back.
“They (the Cougars) are going to make sure they are dotting all their i’s and crossing all their t’s no matter who they are playing,” Baldwin said. “They are well-coached.”
The Cougars also pose a stronger challenge than Idaho, one of the weaker FBS teams.
“The bigger challenge is playing a Pac-12 opponent, not taking anything away from Idaho,” Baldwin said. “The level of athlete you are facing at WSU is at a higher level. It’s going to be an incredible challenge for us.”
In their second game of the season the Cougars hope to improve their timing and other factors that haunted them in the loss at BYU. Leach blamed some of his team’s poor play on “performance anxiety” tied to their first game under a new coach.
Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel took much of the blame after the BYU loss, saying he needed to do a quicker job of getting through his reads and making decisions in Leach’s Air Raid offense. A pair of interceptions also hurt.
“I didn’t play my best,” Tuel said. “I can play better.”
While Washington State was producing just 224 yards of total offense at BYU, Padron was leading EWU to 412 yards against Idaho.
Eastern Washington has a potent receiving corps in Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd.
Padron started 21 games for SMU, throwing for 5,902 yards and 41 touchdowns before he lost his starting job. One of those games was a 35-21 win over Washington State in 2010
“You can see a calmness and experience about him,” Baldwin said.
A rare sellout crowd is expected to christen the new Martin Stadium renovation in Pullman.
“The guys are ready to go and break in that new stadium and give our fans something to get excited about,” Tuel said.