As it turns out, Eastern Washington didn’t have a monopoly on the opening weekend of college football.
A few hours after the Eagles dispatched Sam Houston State last Saturday, the Bulldogs of Western Montana did the same to NAIA rival Montana Tech, 38-6. The winners meet tonight at Roos Field in a game that offers a few opportunities for both teams:
For Western Montana, it’s a chance to play up two levels of competition and pick up a $40,000 appearance fee as they try to build on last week’s win.
For the Eagles, it’s an opportunity to rest a few banged-up players while giving meaningful playing time to the top backups on both sides of the ball, provided they don’t take this game for granted.
Last week’s film showed Eastern coach Beau Baldwin that the Bulldogs “did a great job in all three facets of the game.”
“They’re going to give us a dogfight in different areas, but the main thing is, we have to play to our level,” Baldwin said.
That’s especially important for Eastern; in a span of seven days, the Eagles will move up an unprecedented three levels, from the NAIA Bulldogs to next week’s game at Washington of the Pac-12.
That means a lot of self-criticism, and last week’s game over the Bearkats showed plenty of blemishes – despite a 56-35 win. Defensively, the Eagles need to clean up the missed assignments that led to two long rushing TDs, and the new cornerbacks also have to keep their eyes right and help in run support.
“We had minor issues, but we were all there,” making plays,” cornerback Frank Cange said. “Those are minor things, apart from that we would have shut them down.”
On offense, a finer touch in the passing game might have led to several long touchdowns. Quarterback Vernon Adams vowed to work on his touch.
“I’ve got to take the easy ones,” Adams said.
He may not get much practice, assuming the Eagles grab an early lead. Eastern may go to the bench early against MWU, which is picked sixth in the eight-team Frontier Conference and hasn’t had a winning season since 2004.
MWU was a run-heavy team last year, but has moved to a pro set this year. Quarterback Tyler Hulse was 12 for 26 for 199 yards, while running back Michael Lake had 40 yards on nine carries.
The Bulldogs come in with decent size on both sides of the ball, but second-year coach B.J. Robertson admits to a speed advantage for the Eagles.
“They also have a lot of weapons,” Robertson said.
Some of them will be on the sideline this week, including All-American receiver Cooper Kupp (ankle), running back Jabari Wilson (hamstring), linebacker Ronnie Hamlin (foot) and center Jase Butorac (ankle).
Frontier Conference teams have put a scare into at least two Big Sky teams recently: Last year, Southern Oregon took Sacramento State to overtime before losing 63-56; in 2012, Carroll College stayed with Portland State before falling 38-20, a result that led to PSU coach Nigel Burton firing his defensive coordinator four days later. … Eastern is 8-0 versus Montana Western, and the Eagles have won their last five games versus lower-division foes, dating back to a 21-14 loss in 2006 to Central Washington. … Montana Western is winless in four previous meetings with FCS teams: in 2011, the Bulldogs lost to North Dakota 42-9; in 2010, they fell 32-3 at Idaho State, in 2008 they lost 62-6 at Weber State, and in 2007 they dropped a 52-13 game at Eastern.