The FCS level isn't exactly a place where "depth grows on trees". Usually when a key injury happens to an All-American level talent, there isn't Alabama-like depth there to throw in the next five-star level talent to take his place. But at Eastern Washington, it almost seems like the Eagles have broken that FCS mold.
EWU VS. NDSU: By The Numbers
Gage Gubrud burst onto the scene in early 2016, beating out 3,000-yard passer Jordan West for the starting quarterback position — and the Eastern Washington sophomore joined then teammate Cooper Kupp to make up two-thirds of the finalists for the Walter Payton Awards — essentially the FCS' Heisman Trophy. Just like that, Gubrud was a star, and he was just as much a threat on the ground as he was through the air.
The dominance continued in 2017 as he had to find new weapons, but there was no question he was going to be a major cog in any the winning machinery of 2018. He was a HERO Sports preseason all-american this summer and EWU was a No. 4 ranked pick in the preseason poll.
Then, that blasted toe injury happened in early October, and just a few weeks later he found out it would end his career at EWU. And with that … it looked like hopes of getting to the FCS title game were dashed.
Wrong. Eric Barriere emerged.
Barriere signed with the Eags back in Feb. 2016, and he told HERO Sports at the time of his recruitment he couldn't wait to see what the future held. He broke down what the staff said it liked about him:
"What the staff says it loves about me is how I'm composed all the time and they like my play making ability to extend plays," Barriere told HERO Sports in Jan. 2016. "They also say they love my demeanor, how I'm calm all the time and they love how I'm a competitor."
That's a prophetic scouting report if there ever was one.
Talk about nailing down a future star, the EWU staff knew what it had in the California native. After playing sparingly the first month with Gubrud doing his thing, Barriere won his first start by rushing for nearly 100 yards and 2 TDs and throwing for 200+ in a home win against Southern Utah. He struggled in his second game against 2017 FCS quarterfinalist Weber State, but he hasn't struggled in a game since — capping it with a 7 TD passing semifinal performance against one of the FCS' top defenses, Maine. Coming into this week, he's passed for 2,252 yards and rushed for more than 600 more, while accounting for 31 touchdowns — and that's without even playing most of the first month.
"I've been around some pretty good quarterbacks, and his effort is just effortless when he does it," EWU head coach Aaron Best said. "He's a scary guy. He can move and beat you with his legs and beat you with his arm as long as he's making continuous good decisions … He's different than Gage, but similar to Gage. He's probably not as crafty as Gage. Gage kind of grew into being a crafty old veteran, and Eric will get there at some point."
It's almost as if Gubrud passed the torch to Barriere, and the Eags didn't skip a beat — even though they've dealt with injuries at other positions, too.
This has been a resilient EWU team.
"It's definitely been a tough thing to handle but I think it's been great for me in a lot of ways to handle adversity in this way and see things from a different point of view," Gubrud said. "Sitting on the sideline and watching Eric do his thing … I've benefited from this in a lot of ways and I try to look at it from a positive way."