Eastern Washington University continues its demanding early-season Big Sky Conference football schedule this afternoon with a 12:35 PDT matchup against Weber State in Ogden, Utah.
The 16th-ranked Eagles (2-2 overall, 1-1 Big Sky) are hoping to bounce back from last weekend’s 30-7 loss to Montana State in Bozeman, and could be without junior running back Taiwan Jones, who suffered an abdominal contusion in the pelvic area and missed all but one play in the second half of the MSU game.
Jones, who was listed as probable on Monday, has not practiced this week and his availability, according to head coach Beau Baldwin, will be a game-time decision.
Despite his limited playing time against the Bobcats, Jones still leads the nation with an average of 238.8 all-purpose yards per game and is the Big Sky’s leading rusher with an average of 129.5 yards per game.
The absence of Jones would make the task of dealing with another of the Big Sky favorites that much more difficult.
In preseason polls of both conference coaches and media members, Weber State (2-2, 1-1) was picked to finish fourth behind No. 2 Eastern and its first two BSC opponents, No. 1 Montana and No. 3 Montana State. Baldwin expects his team to have its hands full again.
“It’s a very tough stretch,” Baldwin said, when asked about EWU’s top-heavy conference schedule. “But I want our guys to embrace it and use it as a challenge and not use it as an excuse.
“There are no excuses going down there (to Ogden). It’s just a matter of, this year, we happen to play some of the preseason top-tier teams, and we play a couple of them on the road. That’s just the way the schedule worked out. But on that given day, those are the games you still have to win if you want to have a chance, at the end of the year, to be at or near the top.”
Weber, which is coming off a 20-9 nonconference home win over UC Davis last Saturday, features the conference’s most prolific passer in senior quarterback Cameron Higgins, who has thrown for 300 yards or more in 16 games as a four-year starter.
This fall, the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder has completed 97 of 168 passes for 1,075 yards and eight touchdowns, while throwing only three interceptions. Higgins leads the Big Sky in passing yards (268.8 per game) and total offense (268.5 ypg), and is the trigger man for an offense that is averaging 424.5 yards per game.
In last season’s 31-13 win over EWU in Cheney, Higgins threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns.
Baldwin knows that another big game by the Wildcats’ quarterback could severely damage the Eagles’ Big Sky title chances.
“I wouldn’t say it would be impossible,” Baldwin said of a team winning the regular-season conference championship with two losses, “but it would definitely make it difficult.”