One thing the Eastern Washington players know about Saturday’s football game at Montana: There won’t be much room for error – on or off the field.
On the turf, third-ranked Eastern will have enough on its hands against a talented Grizzly team that already has one Big Sky Conference loss on its ledger and can’t afford another.
Off the field, there’s not much room, period, on the sidelines at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, where the fans are up-close and personal throughout the game.
“It’s almost like a tunnel,” Eastern cornerback T.J. Lee III said before Tuesday’s practice at Roos Field. “But it’s just about the mentality of your team, and we can use that crowd for us.”
That hasn’t happened lately; Eastern hasn’t won in Missoula since 2005, when quarterback Erik Meyer and the Eagles beat the Grizzlies 34-20. Eagle head coach Beau Baldwin is 2-3 against Montana, with both wins coming in the last two meetings in Cheney.
The last time they played in Montana, a record crowd of 26,093 watched the defending national champions fall 17-14 and drop to 0-3 in 2011.
The fans will try to do their part again. The Eagles (5-2 overall, 3-0 in the Big Sky) hope to offset that by pumping crowd noise into Roos Field this week. Silent counts and hand signals are ready, and so is the Eagles’ attitude.
Quarterback Vernon Adams said he expects that the fans “are going to be talking a lot of smack, so I’ve got to play my game and get my playmakers the ball.”
In addition to simulating crowd noise, Baldwin said he will probably remind his younger players to stay focused and not to get caught up with the fans. “For them to say that they’re not going to hear something – no, they’re going to hear it,” said Baldwin, who admits that Montana’s 26,000 fans “seem louder than some stadiums I’ve been in that are twice as large.”
After reviewing film of the Eagles’ 34-10 win last week over Southern Utah, Baldwin said he was impressed by his team’s “urgency” but lamented the Eagles’ offensive performance in the red zone in the middle quarters of the game. “We stubbed our toes a couple of times on some third- and fourth-down conversions, then they make a stop and gain all that momentum,” Baldwin said. … Baldwin also cautioned against reading too much into Montana’s 21-14 overtime win last week over Cal Poly, adding that the visiting Mustangs played “very strong defense” and that Montana may be that much more fired up after a game that didn’t go exactly like they’d like.” … Wide receiver and kickoff returner Shaquille Hill (knee sprain), who was injured against North Dakota and did not play versus Southern Utah, is probable for Montana. Starting offensive tackle Jake Rodgers (knee sprain) and running back Jabari Wilson (shoulder) were both injured against Western Oregon on Sept. 7 and have missed five games since; both are also probable this week.