Eastern Washington University will open its 2009 college football season at home against Western Oregon on Saturday.
You can get a first read of the unedited version of the Eagles' season preview that will appear in Wednesday morning's S-R below. And don't be shy about leaving your thoughts on how the Eags will fare.
It feels like the good – but not-so-old – days around the
That would seem to bode well for the Eagles’ football team, which opens its 2009 season hoping to eventually have its NCAA-levied ban on post-season play lifted and make another Football Championship Subdivision playoff run like it did in 2007.
Eastern finished 9-4 and made it to the quarterfinals of the playoffs that year, losing to eventual national champion Appalachian State 38-35. But that impressive run helped bring about a coaching change that, despite all efforts to keep it seamless, simply wasn’t.
Beau Baldwin, who coordinated EWU’s high-powered offense in 2007 before taking over as the head coach at Central Washington for one season, was brought back to take the Eagles’ reins from Paul Wulff, who was hired away by
In announcing Baldwin’s return, Eastern’s athletic director Bill Chaves pointed to
“Anytime there’s change, no matter how slight, it’s difficult for coaches and players, alike,” admitted
“But I can definitely sense a different feeling this year than I did last, just as far as having players and coaches on the same page.”
“Just as a team, I feel like were more prepared both physically and mentally for the season,” said Matt Nichols, the Eagles’ record-setting senior quarterback and fourth-year starter. “It feels more like it did heading into our 2007 season when we went 9-4 and made it to the playoffs.
“Last year we had a new coaching staff and new systems on offense and defense, so things were a little hazy going into the season and no one seemed sure how things were going to work out. But this year feels a lot more comfortable. Guys have worked a lot harder in the off season, and we just feel more together as a team.”
The Eagles will open the season at Woodward Field on Saturday afternoon with a 12:05 non-conference matchup against
Just how much success Eastern has will depend, in great part, on whether Nichols can regain the consistency and productivity he displayed a sophomore in 2007, when he threw for 3,744 yards and a school-record 34 touchdowns as the Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP.
Nichols’ numbers slipped last fall, but after dropping 20 pounds over the winter – and keeping them off – he seems poised for a big finish, regardless of how the school’s appeal of his post-season ban turns out.
Senior wide receivers Aaron Boyce, Tony Davis and Brynsen Brown and senior tight end
The Eagles lost its top three running backs from last season, but
The offensive line is big and relatively experienced, but the loss of junior Brice Leahy to a off-season knee injury will hurt.
Defensively, the Eagles are battled tested in both the secondary, where senior free safety Kevin Hatch and senior corner Lonnie Hosley return, and at linebacker, where senior Makai Borden, who is currently sidelined with a minor hamstring injury, leads a veteran group of run-stoppers.
The defensive line remains suspect, however, considering three of last year’s full-time starters – including Buck Buchanan Award winner Greg Peach – are gone. Still,
“I know that’s one position people are going to have their eyes on because of the guys we lost,”
Junior nose tackle Tyler Jolley will anchor the d-line this fall, and senior weak-side end Jacob Kragt is also back. But the other tackle spot will be shared by sophomores David Miles and Renard Williams, with redshirt freshman Evan Cook manning the strong-side end position.
“Our defense had done a great job so far this fall of not giving up the big play,”
“And if you have to go the length of the field and make 10- or 12-play drives, it’s hard to score a lot of points.”
Eastern’s special teams remain a bit of a mixed back as
The return teams should be solid however, thanks to an abundance of linebacker and safety types who were recruited to help in that area and the presence of Jones and Nicholas Ramos, who will return punts and kickoffs.
“I’m definitely ready for the season to start, and I know the players are, too,”
“And now that we’ve been with this group, for now going on our second year, you just feel more comfortable as far as them knowing what we expect and us knowing what to expect from them. So that part of it, I feel a lot better about.”
Five things that could prevent EWU from living up to its lofty preseason expectations
1. The NCAA’s ban on postseason play, which is under appeal, but still capable of affecting motivation.
2. The complete lack of FCS experience among the large cast of young quarterbacks hoping to back up senior Matt Nichols, which could make any long-term injury to Nichols devastating.
3. The lack of proven depth on the offensive line, which is already short-handed because of the off-season knee injury suffered by junior veteran Brice Leahy.
4. The early season absence of starting linebackers Makai Borden (hamstring) and Zach Johnson (blood clots in leg), which leaves a pair of redshirt freshman – Jason Harris and Tyler Washburn – in key backup roles.
5. Another difficult Big Sky Conference schedule that has the Eagles facing preseason favorite and perennial national power