HUNTSVILLE, Texas – The bottom line after Eastern Washington’s 49-34 loss Saturday at Sam Houston State?
After a crazy month of ups and downs, the Eagles are 2-2 – exactly where most realistic fans hoped the team would stand before the football season began.
With a brutal schedule that included two FBS opponents and an FCS powerhouse – all on the road – the ledger could have been 1-3. Instead, the Eagles open Big Sky Conference play next week with a reputation that was burnished by the opening win over Oregon State and only slightly diminished by a two-game losing streak.
In other words, the Eagles still have some margin to reach eight or nine wins and still be on track for their now-accustomed spot in the postseason.
That was small consolation after Saturday’s game, which saw the Eagles defense shoved all over the field and an offense that for the second straight game moved fitfully down the field.
“We need to worry about getting to three wins, not nine wins,” head coach Beau Baldwin said Saturday night. “We’ve lost two straight, so we better be hungry to go get one win and figure out the best way to do that.”
The journey gets a little easier partly because it’s shorter: home games against Weber State and Southern Utah sandwiching a trip to Grand Forks on Oct. 14 to play a North Dakota team that’s given up 118 points in its last two games.
At the end of the month is a trip to Missoula on Oct. 26 to face a Montana team whose confidence was likewise shaken after a 34-16 loss on Saturday night at Northern Arizona. Montana State and Cal Poly loom on back-to-back weekends in November – plenty of time to fix the problems.
“You have to build off every game whether it’s a win or loss,” Baldwin said. “When you play a great team on the road like Sam Houston, it shows you some areas you need to improve it – and that’s what it should show us.”
The defensive shortcomings were obvious on Saturday, when the Eagles conceded 450 yards on the ground and 556 overall against Sam Houston, whose option offense was described last week by safeties coach Jeff Schmedding as a “little bit of Portland State and a little bit of Cal Poly.”
The difference is that Sam Houston State runs it a little bit better, partly because of NFL-bound running back Timothy Flanders, who went off for 280 yards against the Eagles.
It didn’t help that the Eagles “didn’t contain and did take a couple of bad angles,” said safety Allen Brown, who along with the rest of the secondary spent most of his time chasing down Flanders.
On the other side of the ball, there’s a sense that other teams are beginning to figure out Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams. After scoring on two of their first possessions and holding a brief 13-7 lead, the Eagles struggled a bit against a Sam Houston defense that focused on preventing Adams from rolling out and buying time to find his receivers.
Adams’ numbers were good – 19 for 31 for 355 yards and three touchdowns – but marred by a costly pick-six that gave the hosts an eight-point lead in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, the Eagles increased their commitment to the run, but 35 rushes netted only 141 yards – not enough on this day to open up more lanes in the passing game.
The payoff may come later, but as Eagles receiver Cory Mitchell said after the game, “We left a lot of plays out on the field.”