Cal Poly promises bring a punishing ground game to Roos Field today.
No problem, Eastern Washington linebacker Ronnie Hamlin said.
“I love to play the run, so bring it on,” said Hamlin, whose defensive teammates will confront the Mustangs’ seldom-seen triple option in a high-stakes matchup this afternoon. How they react – or overreact – will go far in deciding which team still has a chance to host a game in the FCS playoffs – or qualify at all.
The loser of today’s sold-out game, especially if it’s Eastern, probably will need to win its final two games to even make the 20-team field. The seventh-ranked Eagles, 6-2 overall and 5-1 after an upset loss at Southern Utah, close out the season at home against UC Davis and at Portland State.
No. 16 Cal Poly (7-1 and 5-1) lost its first game of the year last weekend at Sacramento State, and still must play first-place Northern Arizona in the last game of the regular season.
“It was really frustrating for us,” Cal Poly quarterback Andre Broadous said about the loss. “We had a lot of mental mistakes. We had a lot of penalties that hurt us. It’s definitely one of those games where we definitely hurt ourselves a lot.”
That included three fumbles, two of them lost. The Eagles aren’t expecting a repeat against a disciplined offense that ranks third in the 120-team FCS in rushing offense with 322 yards a game. Cal Poly has also forced opponents to respect a passing attack that ranks last in the conference in yards (57 a game) but has torched overeager defensive backs for 12 touchdowns.
“That secondary has got to be really disciplined with their eyes, and if they’re in a man situation, they’ve got to take care of their man,” Eastern defensive coordinator John Graham said. “That comes from discipline more than anything else.”
The Eagles’ front seven will be kept busy at the point of attack, but defensive end Paul Ena promises to try to “outphysical them, just get after them in the run game. … It’s different (from most offenses), but it’s a lot of fun.”
On the other side of the ball, the Mustangs’ defense is predictably tough against the run, yielding 127.8 yards a game – third best in the Sky.
“They know exactly who they are,” Baldwin said. “They play more base than some of the other defenses we see, but they know their responsibilities.”
Cal Poly defensive lineman Sullivan Grosz said he expects the Mustangs’ defense to tighten up this week after giving up 450 yards to Sac State.
“Being undefeated, that was a great feeling,” said Grosz, a 6-foot-4, 265-pound tackle. “We were proud of that, but now we’ve got to keep going, and we’ve got to continue to win and win out.”
The Mustangs gave up 303 yards in the air to Sacramento State quarterback Garrett Safron, who earned the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week award for that effort.
“We really had to play a complete game in all phases against Cal Poly,” Sac State coach Marshall Sperbek said.
Baldwin plans to start Vernon Adams at quarterback, but expects Kyle Padron to see plenty of action, similar to the scenario of the past two games against Sacramento State and Southern Utah. Padron passed for more yards in both games than Adams, even in relief.
Baldwin admitted this week that the quarterback rotation “has been unique for me, and it may always be that way.”
He said that the rotation is helping Adams see the game in a different way and giving Adams some “mental relief.”
Baldwin said the substitution decision during the game is a “little bit by feel. It doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
For the season, Adams is 84 for 133 (63.2 percent) for 11 TDs and five interceptions. Padron is 86 for 159 (54.1 percent) for seven TDs and four picks.
The game is a nonconference matchup scheduled two years ago, before Cal Poly joined the Big Sky Conference. … Eastern Washington leads the overall series 3-2, winning last year 53-51 in triple overtime in San Luis Obispo, Calif. … With three games to play, Eastern’s defense has matched last year’s total of 16 takeaways. The 2010 team had 47 takeaways in 15 games.