CORVALLIS, Ore. – Please, no more body-bag games. They’re just too painful to watch, especially if you also have to pony up $450,000 to have your defense embarrassed by a lower-division team.
Body-bag games. That’s what an Oregonian columnist labeled Eastern Washington’s contest last weekend against 25th-ranked Oregon State. As if there weren’t already enough chips on their collective shoulder pads, the Eastern Washington players took exception at having their game likened to the mismatch being played down the road between Nicholls State and third-ranked Oregon.
Via social media, the players politely but firmly disagreed, then went out and backed up almost every tweet. So did some other FCS schools.
The Eagles’ 49-46 victory Saturday night was one of eight by FCS teams over FBS squads over the weekend, blurring the competitive line between the divisions even as the financial divide threatens to widen and the media pays more attention to Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron’s ingrown toenail than to North Dakota State’s conquest of Kansas State.
The opening weekend of the season clarified what many already know: That FCS and FBS programs are distinguished from each other more by their fan bases and television contracts than by the product on the field.
For one afternoon at least, quarterback Vernon Adams and his receivers looked like the prime-time players. Oregon State’s lockdown corners? They may be locked down in the film room for a few days.
How big a win was this?
After the Eagles’ win in front of 41,649 at Reser Stadium, Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin compared it with the FCS national title.
That win is still No. 1, Baldwin said, but added that “Some people might argue that a win like this can draw more attention to your program than a national title.”
That will have to wait a while. Late Saturday night, the headline on ESPN’s college football home page read, “Oregon State upset by FCS team.” Even during the game, Oregon State’s public address announcer referred to the visitors as “Central Washington.”
And the Eagle players? There’s no identity crisis. “They know who they are,” Baldwin said in the lockerroom as the players showered and prepared for shortest nine-hour bus ride in FCS history.
After a raucous locker room celebration filled with hugs and shouts, Baldwin admonished the players to enjoy the moment, but come back next week with something to prove again on Saturday in the home opener against Western Oregon.
Keeping an even keel on the good ship Eagle, the assistant coaches gave the same message. Offensive line coach Aaron Best was fresh off a few celebratory chest bumps with his players when he was congratulated on their play. He paused.
“We did OK, but we’ll have to check the film before we pass out the grades,” Best said.
The marks should be high, given the Eagles’ 625 yards of total offense and scoring on all but one possession. No turnovers, and strong pass blocking, unlike last year in a close loss at Washington State.
Even, better, no blowups in the kickoff and punt return game, which wasted an otherwise strong effort at Washington in 2011.
In the end, Baldwin said this was a “program win,” building quality depth to withstand the deeper lineups of the Pac-12. True freshmen and redshirt freshmen stepped up on both sides of the ball.
“We kept taking punches, but we hung in there,” said linebacker J.C. Agen, who for a while was the only starter in the lineup. “I just told the young guys that they’ve been doing this along (in practice), that they can play with anyone.”