Here’s hoping Eastern Washington football coach Bean Baldwin and his staff took at least a couple of hours to enjoy Saturday’s season opening 35-14 win before checking out the telecast of the abuse next Saturday’s opponent, California, put on Maryland.
But before we start delving into the abyss of problems the Golden Bears might present next weekend, let’s look back on Saturday’s win over the Division II Wolves.
For openers, you can check out the sidebar I wrote on sophomore running back Taiwan Jones and his memorable first carry as an Eagles here, and you can access the game story produced by EWU’s sports information departmen — complete with a link to Saturday’s box score — here. The Western Oregon sports info folks posted this game account, and for those who missed Saturday’s post, you can take a belated look at the game story that appeared in Sunday’s S-R here.
In addition, I’ve included personal observations and additional comments from Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin and his players on the following areas of interest:
EAGLES’ OVERALL PERFORMANCE
Outside of some obvious gaffes by Eastern’s kickoff coverage team, there wasn’t much to criticize. The Eagles took care of business against a D-II opponent without giving away too many secrets — other than the explosiveness of Taiwan Jones — to next week’s opponent, California.
“We need to clean up some things on the kickoff team, and we’ll get on that right away,” Baldwin said of his coverge team, which allowed up 172 return yards and gave WOU excellent field position after nearly every kickoff. ”We’ve got to do beter with that unit.
“We definitely put our defesne in tough positions. But with the position that our defense was put in on numerous occasions — both with turnovers on offense in the first half, or long returns by (Western Oregon) — they held their own. They studded up with needed to down in the red zone and blocked a field goal, so I was really impressed with that.
OFFENSIVE STRUGGLES IN THE FIRST HALF
It seemed like Jones’ stirring 87-yard touchdown on the Eagles’ first play from scrimmage had an adverse effect on the Eagles’ offense. Senior quarterback Matt Nichols did not look as comfortable as I have seen him in many past games, and he seemed to be locking onto targets and staying with them too long, which helped lead to three sacks.
But Nichols and his teammates looked much more in synch following intermission — a point Baldwin adressed after the game.
“Offensively, we missed on a couple of big-play opportunities in teh first half,” he said. “I think we could have added another touchdown, for sure. We were also a little sloppy, putting the ball on teh ground the one time, and with that interception right before half.
“But it’s also first game, so what I was happy to see was after halftime we came out as an offense adn definitley played better in the second half. I don’t know or care about what the yardage totals were, but I fell like we operated better in the second half, play in and play out.”
ON KEEPING SCHEMES VANILLA ON BOTH SIDES OF THE FOOTBALL
With a road game against national ranked Pacific-10 Conference power California looming on Saturday, the Eagles seemed to stick strictly to the basics both offensively and defensively. It was nice to see Nichols seek out — and find — his big senior tight end Nathan Overbay for a couple of nifty secoond-half touchdown passes, but other than that, Baldwin did not dig very deep into his playbook.
“We started slow,” admitted the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Overbay, who also chased down a WOU punt returner near the end of the game, drawing a big reaction from the crowd and his teammates. ”We started really slow actually, but after that we kidn of settled down.
“There’s always a the first-game jitter, plus, we didn’t show a lot of our offense. We didn’t really need to, to tell you the truth. We had a lot of stuff that was working. We just had to run in over and over again to get it right It was all pretty basic. We ran what wee needed to run to get it done, and we came through.”
According to Kevin Hatch, the Eagles’ defense didn’t show much, either.
“We did a lot of our base coverages, just to prove to ourselves we can run our base stuff,” said the senior free safety, who picked off a pair of passes and had an hand in six tackles. “We threw in some blitze here and there, but it pretty much came down to making sure we can run our base stuff.”
ON OVERBAY BECOMING A BIGGER PART OF THE PASSING GAME
At 6-foot-5, the 270-pound senior tight end presents plenty of problems for opposing defenses, and, in my opinion, even more still untapped opportunities for the Eagles’ offense. After averaging just a little over two catches per game last fall, the former prep standout from Chehalis, hauled down four passes on Saturday, including touchdown tosses from 20 and 21 yards out.
“He’s one of those guys who has, maybe, been under untilized a little bit the last couple of years,” Nichols said, “and I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people with his abilities this year.
“He’s a huge target; one of those kind of guys you can just throw the ball up in the air to and know he’s going to get to it. He sure makes my job a lot easier. He’s going to do great things for us this year.”
Overbay said he worked hard during the off season to become “faster and more athletic.
“And it paid off,” he added.
ON THE PLAY OF EASTERN’S YOUNG OFFENSIVE LINE
It was difficult to keep tabs on who was playing where at any one time on the Eagles’ youthful defensive front, where freshmen Paul Ena, Will Katoa and Jerry Ceja were part of the regular rotation, along with redshirt freshman Evan Cook and sophomores David Miles and Charles Moetului.
But whatever combination was on the field, the Eags seemed to be able to put some decent pressure on Josh Riddell, the Wolves’ senior quarterback, while still protecting the running lanes.
Baldwin seemed pleased with the performance of his defensive line and hinted rather strongly that the heavy substitution pattern that was so prevalent on Saturday will remain a part of the Eagles’ defensive game plan.
“I’m going to have to go back and watch film, but I think their effort was good,” he said of the young men who man his defensive front. “I know they were fighting and scrapping and drawing holds, just because they were working so hard, and they wer flushing the quarterback.
“Realistically, we knew we lost some senior linemen, including the player of the year in the country (Greg Peach), so we’re going to go to more of a defensive-line-by-committee this year. It’s going to be, sometimes, where eight or nine guys are ready to stay fresh and keep running in and out.
“That’s been our plan all camp, and that going to be our plan all year — that we’re not going to have a lot of d-linemen playing more than 30 or 40 snaps in a game.”