Eastern Washington University dominated the weekly football awards handed out by the Big Sky Conference on Monday.
Junior running back Taiwan Jones was named the league’s offensive player of the week after rushing for a career-high 221 yards and one touchdown, and amassing 305 all-purpose yards, in the Eagles’ 36-27 win over then-sixth-ranked Montana at Roos Field in Cheney.
And Jones’ teammate, Eagles junior strong safety Matt Johnson was honored as the BSC’s defensive player of the week after picking off two passes – including one that came on EWU’s 3-yard-line to snuff out a Montana scoring threat – forcing a fumble and having a hand in eight tackles.
After the win over the Grizzlies, Eastern’s defensive coordinator John Graham was asked about the splendid play of Johnson, and responded by calling the former prep standout from Tumwater High School one of the best defenders in the conference.
“He’s a player,” Graham said of the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder, who led the Big Sky in interceptions last fall and finished fifth in tackles with an average of 8.5 per game. “It was a travesty last year, when he led the conference in interceptions and finished (fifth) in tackles and was only honorable mention (All-Big Sky).
“He’s one of the best safti … one of the best football players in the conference, and he showed it today,” Graham added.
Wulff makes the call
Washington State head coach Paul Wulff was conducting an interview with a reporter Monday morning when he was asked if he was going to call Eastern Washington’s head coach Beau Baldwin and congratulate him on the Eagles’ upset win over Montana.
Wulff, who hired Baldwin as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at EWU when he first took over the Eagles in 2003, said that was his immediate plan.
“It must have been the red turf,” the reporter offered as a possible key to Eastern’s win.
“Or a guy 6-1, 200 pounds, who runs a 4.3 (second) 40,” chuckled Wulff, in obvious reference to Jones.
Eastern Washington moved into the Top 10 of both major Football Championship Subdivision polls following its upset of previously sixth-ranked Montana.
The Eagles vaulted from 18th to ninth in the Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25, and from 16th to 10th in the FCS Coaches Poll. Montana slipped from sixth to 14th in both polls.
Weber State fell out of both polls after losing to Sacramento State, but Montana State, ranked 22 in both polls last week, is 17th in the Sports Network rankings and 16th in the coaches’ poll.
‘GameDay’ seeing red
Eastern Washington’s new red turf is expected to be the focus of a short feature story that will air this Saturday on ESPN’s “GameDay” college football coverage from Boise, where Boise State will entertain Oregon State on the Broncos’ equally unique blue turf.
An ESPN crew, led by feature producer Lydelle King, was on the EWU campus Saturday and Sunday, taping highlights and interviews of the weekend’s wildly successful inauguration of the artificial red playing surface.
GameDay, with regulars Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Hebstreit and Desmond Howard, will air Saturday from 7-9 a.m.
MSU suspends D’alba
Even before Big Sky officials could review the incident, Montana State coach Rob Ash took the step of suspending defensive tackle Jason D’Alba for one game because of a hit he put on Drake quarterback Michael Piatkowski during the Bobcats’ 48-21 nonconference win over the visiting Bulldogs. Piatkowski suffered a concussion.
“We don’t teach that kind of hit, and we don’t condone it,” said Ash, who spent 18 years at Drake – where he became this winningest coach in school history with a 125-63-2 record – before hiring on at MSU three years ago. “I don’t believe Jason’s intent was to injure, but our players are accountable for their actions.”
Montana State will be looking to snap a seven-game losing streak to Eastern Washington when the teams square off in Bozeman on Saturday. … Eastern’s win over Montana snapped the Grizzlies’ 15-game winning streak against conference opponents. … Trumaine Johnson’s interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter of Montana’s loss to EWU was the Grizzlies’ fifth pick-six of the season. … Jerry Ceja, Eastern’s sophomore defensive end, has been officially credited with sacking UM quarterback Justin Roper and forcing the fumble that teammate Renard Williams returned for a touchdown on the final play of EWU’s win over the Grizzlies. Senior defensive tackle Tyler Jolley had initally been credited with the sack and forced fumble.