Idaho State Journal sports editor Jordan Kaye: Idaho State played WSU twice last season. The Wildcats blew out ISU in the first matchup and was nearly upset in the second. What was the difference?
Standard-Examiner sports editor Brett Hein: In some ways, it felt like Weber State pushed the easy button in the spring opener, picking on a young secondary with a bunch of deep throws from Bronson Barron, a freshman quarterback in his first start, with an offensive coordinator ISU hadn’t been able to scout yet.
Weber spent the rest of the season with growing pains offensively, especially in the red zone, which continued into this season, and Barron broke his left wrist in Week 2 of the spring season. That impacted WSU’s continuity and QB injuries have done the same this season. Though WSU outgained UC Davis and Montana State this season in losses, points weren’t there. They found a breakthrough with 35 points last week at Eastern.
JK: Can you give an update on WSU’s QB situation? I know Kylan Weisser was injured against Cal Poly, but it seems Bronson Barron has played well in his absence. What should Bengals fans expect on Saturday?
BH: Barron was the incumbent starter from the spring but suffered a knee injury during a Week 2 win at Dixie State. Randall Johnson took over and played fine to finish that game, but later struggled and was benched for Weisser at halftime of the home game against James Madison. Weisser broke a bone in his right leg slipping on the soft grass at Cal Poly, freshman Creyton Cooper finished that game, and Barron returned after a bye week.
Barron then started against Montana State and Eastern Washington and has looked anywhere from fine to good, provided he’s given time to throw from the offensive line, which has become an issue. Barron also took a hit to his throwing hand at EWU late in the third quarter, making it go numb, and Johnson finished the game and was QB for WSU’s final two touchdown drives.
A long answer, but it illustrates the absolute carousel WSU has dealt with at QB. As the No. 1 QB, Barron has played 13 of 28 quarters this season. Barron should be fine and start in Pocatello, and I’d expect he’ll play well.
JK: The Wildcats have one of the best passing defenses in the Big Sky. What makes the Weber State secondary so tough for opponents?
BH: Between the scheme, the athletes, and the defensive line, WSU is usually pretty good at stopping passing offenses from tossing it all over the field, as illustrated by the two times they’ve played against Eric Barriere, or holding Montana State’s Matt McKay to 79 passing yards.
Cornerbacks Marque Collins and Eddie Heckard are talented enough to allow for man coverage, and the defensive line creates pressure that also aids the man principles. At safety, Preston Smith is as experienced as they come, and Desmond Williams has returned from injury and really made a difference last week at Eastern. And, to some degree, it’s just a matter of Jay Hill being a great defensive coach.
JK: What did Weber State do last week to pull the upset of Eastern Washington?
BH: From quarters two through four, they made Barriere work for every yard, and they won the turnover battle, which is something Weber hadn’t done against a good team this season. The offense — the offensive line and company blocking for the run game of Kris Jackson, Dontae McMillan and Dave Jones, especially — came alive and finished drives unlike it has all season, and that was perhaps the biggest difference.
JK: WSU probably needs to win out to make the playoffs but, coming off the emotional high of beating EWU, is there a chance this could be a trap game?
BH: I think there is a slight chance, though usually Weber is well-coached enough to not fall into traps like this. Outside of needing to win out, I think it’s also important to the program to win against its most regional rivals, which are Idaho State and Southern Utah. So if there’s a trap to fall into, I don’t think this is as high on the list other games might be. I think the Bengals playing well at home this season, in particular, has their attention.