CORVALLIS, Ore. – The question, as Eastern Washington University opens the 2006 football season at Oregon State tonight, is who learned from history?
Today’s 7 p.m. game at Reser Stadium is a repeat of the 2000 season opener, won by the Beavers 21-19.
“I think we all remember that,” OSU coach Mike Riley said. “That was the Beavers’ Fiesta Bowl year. It was a good football team.”
Obviously, he isn’t going to let his team overlook an underdog.
“This is a good football team,” Riley said. “They’ve been at the top of their league. They’re very well respected for what they do on the football field, strategically and physically how they play the game. They’re going to be well prepared and they’ll play hard.”
The flip side is what that score represents for Eastern.
“I think our kids understand, although none of them were here, if they go play a good football game they have a chance to win,” said Paul Wulff, recalling his first game as head coach.
“Their program has changed, too,” he continued. “They have a nicer venue, more consistent expectations of being a bowl team. … They’ll be fired up and ready to go.”
But Wulff is looking for more than a representative score.
“This is a different year, but I do feel like we are prepared to go play a ball game,” he said. “We’re going to go down to play good football and we are going to put a plan together to win. I feel good about competing and having an opportunity to win a ball game.”
Oregon State used the wakeup call by the Eagles as a springboard to an 11-1 season, capped by a 41-9 thumping of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. The Beavers have been to three bowl games in the five years since.
Although only 5-6 a year ago, including 3-5 in the Pac-10, the Beavers return 16 starters, 50 lettermen and a vow not to hold anything back.
“I know our players are ready to hit somebody else,” Riley said. “We’ve been able to take the last week and focus on the opening game. … We’re certainly not holding one thing back for this ball game.”
Eastern returns 14 starters and 41 lettermen from a team that posted the school’s seventh straight winning season, shared the Big Sky Conference title and went to the I-AA playoffs for a second straight year.
The Beavers have a dangerous offense with a veteran line.
Senior quarterback Matt Moore started 10 of 11 games last year, throwing for 2,711 yards. A main target is massive tight end Joe Newton, who caught 56 passes two years ago before missing last season with an injury. Running back Yvenson Bernard, a junior, averaged 120 yards last season, ninth in the nation. All three are co-captains.
The receivers are somewhat inexperienced but big.
OSU’s defense led the Pac-10 against the run and is backed by a veteran secondary.
That combination makes this a difficult matchup for the Eagles, who graduated their passing attack, putting the offensive emphasis on the run and cornerbacks.
“I feel like our defense will be good and we’re hoping we’ll tackle extremely well,” Wulff said. “That’s something we’ve been really working on. It will be a challenge for our defensive front. It will be an interesting matchup for our inexperienced quarterbacks and young receivers. We need our offensive line to play well, that’s the bottom line.
“I think our special teams will be solid, but that’s always a question until you get live.”