Beau Baldwin knows all about the hunger pangs that can motivate a winless football team.
Which is why Eastern Washington’s head coach is extremely wary of the Northern Colorado team that will come into Roos Field Saturday afternoon looking for its first victory and hoping to spoil the Eagles’ 85th homecoming celebration.
Kickoff is set for 4 p.m., and Baldwin expects the Bears (0-6 overall, 0-4 in the Big Sky Conference) to be a handful, despite the fact that they have been outscored by an average of almost 23 points in their last five games.
“Two games ago, we were in the same boat they are, and we were hungry for our first win,” said Baldwin, whose Eagles (2-4, 2-2) opened the season with four consecutive losses. “And right now, they’re just as hungry as we were.”
UNC, under first-year head coach Earnest Collins, Jr., lost its season opener 22-20 at home to Lindenwood, a school still transitioning to the NCAA Division II level, and then proceeded to get thundered on consecutive weekends by Colorado State (33-14), Idaho State (50-20), Weber State (45-21) and Montana (55-28), before losing last Saturday to visiting Sacramento State, 14-0, in the cold, wind and rain that ravaged the Greeley, Colo., area.
The Bears come into today’s game ranked last in the Big Sky in scoring offense (17.2 points per game), scoring defense (41.0 ppg), total offense (229.5 yards per game) and pass efficiency defense (174.6).
But Baldwin insists they are not as bad as those numbers suggest.
“They have great athletes, they have great speed and they’re just going to keep getting better with every game,” he said of the Bears, whose top offensive threat is sophomore quarterback Seth Lobato, who has thrown for 805 yards and seven touchdowns in the five games he has played. “They got a new staff, so they have a new system … and they’re better now than they’ve been yet to this point, and we have to understand that.
“Honestly, in the Big Sky, records don’t mean anything. Every game in this conference is tough, no matter who you’re playing.”
Eastern, which is coming off back-to-back league wins over Weber State (27-21) and Northern Arizona (36-28), has impressed Collins with the way it has reinvented itself following an avalanche of early season injuries.
“They’ve had a rash of injuries up front,” Collins said, but I think those guys – the new ones that are coming in – are starting to gel. They’ve got a few games of experience under their belts, and now they’re starting to get into the rhythm again.”
Still, Collins is hoping his defense can exploit EWU’s patched-together offensive line and make life miserable for Eagles quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who has thrown for a Big Sky-best 1,979 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“We have to make sure we do a good job of trying to create confusion up front and get to Bo,” he explained, “because he’s the one that makes them go.”
Eastern Washington is 5-0 against Northern Colorado since the Bears joined the Big Sky in 2006. … UNC’s sophomore linebacker Clarence Bumpas lead the conference in tackles with an average of 12.7 per game. … The Eagles scored two touchdowns against the Bears in the final 3 minutes, 8 seconds of last year’s matchup in Greeley, Colo., and escaped with a 35-28 win. … With his NFL team, the Tennessee Titans having a bye week, former EWU offensive lineman Michael Roos is expected to attend today’s game. It will be the first time Roos has watched the Eagles play in the field that is named after him, and on the red turf he and his wife Katherine helped make a reality with their $500,000 donation.