MISSOULA – Eastern Washington University coach Beau Baldwin stopped short of calling this afternoon’s Big Sky Conference football opener against Montana his team’s 2011 Super Bowl.
But he made it clear his 10th-ranked Eagles (0-2) need a win in the worst way, and that he expects a Super Bowl-like effort from them when they face off against 12th-ranked Grizzlies (1-1).
“It’s huge,” Baldwin said of today’s game, which kicks off at noon in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. “It’s our first league game, and on top of that it’s Montana, and on top of that you’re playing at their stadium, which is always a challenge, but an awesome environment, as well.
“It’s exciting, and our guys are pumped up for it. But whether we’re 0-2, 1-1 or 2-0, we’d be excited for this ballgame.”
Eastern is coming off an unexpected 30-17 loss at South Dakota last weekend, and will be looking to jump-start a running game that produced only 42 net yards in its first two games. But that could prove to be a major challenge, considering the Eagles will be operating against a veteran Montana defensive front – and without the services of starting running back Mario Brown, who was suspended for today’s game after throwing a punch following last weekend’s loss to USD.
In Brown’s absence, the Eagles will probably run the ball by committee, with first-year sophomore Demetrius Bronson and freshmen Jordan Talley and Quincy Forte splitting carries.
And while he is well aware of EWU’s desire to ramp up its running game, Montana coach Robin Pflugrad seems more concerned about the Eagles’ passing game and senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who has thrown for 842 yards and five touchdowns, and leads the country in total offense with an average of 413.5 per game.
“Bo Levi can throw all the different kinds of throws there are,” Pflugrad said. “From sprint-out, to naked boots, to just straight drop-back to the quick (pass) game, he has every single kind of throw you can imagine.”
Adding to Pflugrad’s anxiety is the fact that the Grizzlies have three first-year starters in their secondary.
“So that’s going to be something (the Eagles) are going to go after,” he said.
Pflugrad has a special quarterback of his own in Jordan Johnson, a 6-foot-1, 202-pound sophomore, who has completed 44 of 75 passes (58.7 percent) for 466 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing for 58 additional yards on 12 carries.
“He’s a very good player,” Baldwin said of Johnson, “For a guy who hasn’t played a ton of football, he’s operating very well, and he fits into what they do. I felt like we faced a very good quarterback (Dante Warren) last week in what South Dakota did, and I think we’re facing an even better quarterback this week.
“He’s going to be a challenge.”
Montana, which dropped its season opener 42-16 at Tennessee on Sept. 3, is coming off a 37-23 home win over Cal Poly last weekend. … Eastern, which led all Football Championship Subdivision schools with 26 interceptions and 47 turnovers, has a turnover margin of minus-2.5 through two games this fall. … Eagles coach Baldwin refused to explain why senior all-American defensive tackle Renard Williams is listed No. 2 at his position on this week’s depth chart. “It’s in house, and I’ll keep it at that,” he said. “But he’s going to play. He may even play more snaps that he sometimes does.” … Montana has won 89 percent (164-21) of the games it has played in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, but EWU has won there in 1990, 1992, 1997 and 2005.
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