Good timing doesn’t have to be precise.
Which is why Mike Kramer can look past all the obvious factors that suggest otherwise and declare his Eastern Washington Eagles are catching Idaho State at just the right time in this afternoon’s 12:35 football homecoming matchup at Woodward Stadium.
Forget that the Bengals (1-5 over-all, 0-3 in the Big Sky Conference) are coming off their first win of the year a 46-31 victory against Southern Utah last weekend. And forget that Kramer’s league-leading Eagles (6-1, 4-1) are primed for an emotional letdown after last Saturday’s shocking 40-35 road win over Montana.
“Right time,” in this case, doesn’t mean the right day, or even the right weekend. It means the right year.
“Right now they’re just simply not the team Idaho State has been in the past, particularly in terms of skill and speed,” Kramer said in reference to the shabby state of the program that first-year coach Tom Walsh inherited last winter.
Since 1992, ISU players recruited during the Brian McNeely Era were involved in everything from statutory rape and shoplifting to theft of dormitory furniture and even an off-campus shooting. Before McNeely was fired at the end of last season, the Bengals’ rap sheet had grown to embarrassing dimensions and most of the usual suspects he had recruited had either fled the program or been incarcerated.
In addition, ISU’s mega-talented quarterback, Shawn Griggs, who threw for 1,823 yards and 16 touch downs as a true freshman last fall, jumped ship and transferred to South Carolina.
Walsh was left with a shallow pool of returning talent and an empty canister of recruiting ammunition. As a result, the Bengals had just 40 players show up for spring drills. And Walsh welcomed back only 28 letterwinners this fall.
Kramer, then, has no trouble understanding ISU’s 0-5 start. But he is impressed with what he has seen of Walsh’s rebuilding efforts and is convinced the Bengals won’t be down for long.
“I see solidness in the way they are going about revamping their whole program,” Kramer explained.
“They’re very sound in their approach. They’re a little bit like us in that they’re not real flashy. They’re not willing to try a bunch of wild formations and trick plays to compensate for what they don’t have.
“I can see some real quality in their coaching philosophies and techniques as they try to do the things they’re going to be able to do once their recruiting base is reestablished.
“To be honest with you, I think we’re playing them at a good time.”
The numbers would seem to bear out Kramer’s assessment. Still, the Bengals rank last in the Big Sky in total offense (223.7 yards per game), passing offense (117.0) and scoring offense (14.2 points per game). And they are second-to-last in total defense (405.2 yards per game) and scoring defense (33.3 points per game).
However, ISU came within a point of upsetting Montana State, the only team to beat Eastern his season.
As for his own troops, Kramer admitted he expects an emotional letdown following last Saturday’s upset of the then No. 2-ranked Grizzlies. But he is hoping to use it to his team’s advantage.
“There’s going to be a natural swoon,” he explained, “because there’s no way we can maintain the fanatical attitude we had against Montana. But if we can replace it with some intense concentration, I’ll be satisfied.
“We made a lot of errors because we were so hyped up, so maybe we can alleviate some of those by playing smarter and actually play better this week.”
Eastern is ranked No. 11 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and No. 12 in the Sports Network’s Top 25… . Both starting tailback Rex Prescott, who suffered a concussion in last Saturday’s upset of Montana, and his backup, Mike MacKenzie, who injured a shoulder against the Grizzlies, have been cleared to play today… . Prescott ran for 172 yards and scored two touchdowns in EWU’s 31-17 win over the Bengals last year in Pocatello… . Kramer said freshman cornerback Ole Olesen, who has missed EWU’s last two games with a knee sprain, could return today on a limited basis… . The Eagles lead the series against ISU 12-6 and have won three of the last five meetings with the Bengals. … Idaho State free safety Trevor Bell has intercepted two passes in three different games this fall.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Eagles vs. Idaho State
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