GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — Cal Poly attempted five passes last Saturday in beating North Dakota 35-17 at the Alerus Center. By contrast, there's a decent chance Eastern Washington will throw five times on its opening possession when the No. 7 Eagles host UND on Saturday on the red turf in Cheney, Wash.
Cal Poly's offense throws the ball 17 percent of the time on average, while Eastern Washington will put it through the air 52 percent of the time.
That means the UND defense will be in for a quick adjustment.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge," UND safety Erik Mersereau said. "We have our work cut out for us, but we're kind of looking forward to the task. We've been tested, but not to the extent we'll see this week."
The Eagles, who are averaging 309.5 passing yards per game, have a new look under center. EWU started the season with Southern Methodist transfer quarterback Kyle Padron, but the Eagles have since gone to redshirt freshman Vernon Adams, who was named Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week after leading the Eagles to a 32-26 comeback victory over Montana, which knocked the Grizzlies out of the national Top 25 for the first time since 1998.
Adams, a 6-foot, 180-pound speedster from Pasadena, Calif., completed 25 of 41 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Montana. Adams, in his second career start, was 13-for-21 for 171 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Adams, who UND has compared to shifty North Dakota quarterback Marcus Hendrickson, had a team-high 54 rushing yards against the Grizzlies.
"It's going to be a tough task," UND defensive lineman Devin Benjamin said. "It's one of the most efficient passing games in the country."
Adams' top target is Brandon Kaufman, who has had at least 100 yards in all four games this year. He is second in the country in receiving yards per game.
And UND's defensive statistics aren't stellar. UND ranks ninth among 13 teams in the Big Sky in team total defense. In rushing defense, UND ranks 12th. In pass defense, UND ranks fourth.
"Defensively, they don't have good numbers," Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said. "But I've been part of teams like that where numbers don't reflect the talent level. That defense will have great games. They have athletes. They mix up their pressures well. They can cause you problems."
Baldwin also is concerned with UND's explosive offense, which was held to a season-low 17 points against Cal Poly. Despite the off week, UND still ranks first in the Big Sky in scoring offense (40.8 points per game) and total offense (478.6 yards per game). The team's 27 touchdowns also are the most in the league.
In EWU's win over Montana last week, the Grizzlies outgained the Eagles 553-447 in total offense, including a whopping 407-94 edge in rushing yards.
In the win over Montana, the Eagles lost senior safety Jeff Minnerly to a fractured collarbone. Minnerly was a Football Championship Subdivision All-American last season.
"The thing that jumps out at you is how explosive they are," Baldwin said of North Dakota. "They mix it up, too. They keep you off balance. They flat out put up points. You can do a lot of things right, and they can still get you.
"They're the real deal," he said. "You don't do that at San Diego State (pass for 434 yards) without being a great team. I have lots of respect for them."