SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – The Eastern Washington football team is living right.
Already on a six-game win streak, the third-ranked Eagles left the snowflakes behind Friday afternoon and found temperatures in the low 60s for their walkthough on the grass at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
All things considered, it couldn’t be going better … much like a year ago, when the then No. 1 Eagles hit the road against a struggling Southern Utah team.
And lost 30-27.
Throw in the seldom-seen triple option of Cal Poly – a hard-luck team that still entertains FCS playoff hopes – and Eastern (8-2 overall, 6-0 in the Big Sky Conference) faces a tough matchup today in the penultimate game of the regular season.
If this is looking like a trap game, Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said his team won’t have a letdown after last week’s 54-29 rout of Montana State.
“Our guys are pretty good about it, good or bad, we’re able to knock out the game before and move on,” said Baldwin, whose team has a chance to clinch at least a tie for the conference title with a win over the Mustangs (5-5 overall, 4-2 Big Sky).
The Mustangs’ two conference losses have come to Montana (21-14 in overtime after leading until the last play of regulation), and 17-13 against Northern Arizona (on a late kickoff return).
The biggest obstable for Eagles, besides a stingy Cal Poly defense, is the Mustangs’ triple-option attack that Baldwin admits is difficult to prepare for.
“It’s tough,” Baldwin said. “Our scout team works hard, but there’s only so much you can do, and when the starts, it’s a little faster than what you see in practice.”
Cal Poly leads the FCS in rushing yardage (with a 308.6 average) partly because they execute with simplicity. This is old-fashioned football, with a small-but-quick line blocking for feature back Kristaan Ivory.
“I think they’re going to try to get the ball to (Ivory),” Eastern linebacker Miquiyah Zamora said before the Eagles went through their walkthrough.
The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Ivory already has 940 yards on 145 carries this year, and trails only Eastern’s Quincy Forte in yards per carry at 6.5. Fullback Akaninyene Umoh got into the act last week against Sacramento State with his first career 100-yard game as the Mustangs rolled, 42-7.
“This is a true triple option,” Baldwin said. “They still mix it up with certain formations, but obviously it’s proven.”
It’s also proven to sting opposing defenses that cheat too close; last week Mustang quarterback Chris Brown stung the Hornets with four touchdown passes.
“You have to be really disciplined, because when they throw the ball, they’re not looking for 5 yards on the flat,” Baldwin said.
Last year, the Eagles more than held their own against Cal Poly, forcing three turnovers en route to a 34-17 win.
But that was last year. Zamora admitted that the triple option “is kind of new to me, but we did a lot of studying this whole week, so I thin we’re ready.”
Notes: Brown is questionable with an ankle injury, so the quarterback duties for Cal Poly may revert to former starter Dane Graves, who was injured earlier in the season. Redhshirt freshman Tanner Trosin also may see action.
Notes: The Eagles are trying to become the first Big Sky team to finish the league season undefeated and win the outright league title since Montana did it in 2009. The Grizzlies are the only team to win the outright league title since 1997, having accomplished that feat in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2006 and 2007 and 2009. Eastern won the title in 1997 with a 7-1 record.