Eastern Washington’s defense isn’t the only unit looking for some consistency going into Saturday’s home game against Cal Poly.
The Eagle offense has scored in bunches, but that’s the rub: Rather than driving, seventh-ranked Eastern is leapfrogging its way down the field, and three-play touchdown drives are sometimes followed by multiple three-and-outs.
Four games into the season, that’s probably the only tarnish on a brilliant performance by a group that leads the Football Championship Subdivision in passing offense (averaging 467 yards) and is among the most explosive in the nation.
September was filled with extremes: The Eagles struggled on third down in the loss at Northern Iowa and couldn’t get into rhythm early in their Big Sky Conference opener at Sacramento State. Eastern’s 28-20 victory was a product of big plays rather than steady drives.
In that game, Eastern had just one possession that lasted more than 10 plays, and again the Eagles struggled on third down, going 4-for-14. “We need to improve in that area,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said in a nod to his ground game.
At first glance, that should be easy against a Cal Poly defense that’s the worst in the conference on third down. Mustang opponents have converted 50 percent of their chances (38 of 76) while averaging 501 yards of total offense. Only one Big Sky team is worse: Eastern, which is giving up 567 yards a game.
That’s no coincidence, given the opposition. Both EWU (3-2)and Poly (2-3) have played Northern Iowa and Montana State, while Poly also faces Montana and Arizona in what so far is the toughest schedule in FCS.
In other words, the numbers don’t tell the whole story, Baldwin said.
“They’re sound and very well-coached, and they do it at a high level,” Baldwin said of Poly’s defense. “They’ve traditionally been very strong in defense.”
Indeed, the Mustangs took a 20-19 win at Montana earlier this year, a week after the Griz beat top-ranked North Dakota State 38-35. A week later, Poly was locked in a 21-21 tie at Arizona State before giving up two scores in the fourth quarter.
Said Eastern offensive lineman Aaron Neary, “Their defense is one of the best outfits we’ve faced. They’re talented and they have great motors all the way around.”
Former Eastern safety Allen Brown will be on the opposing sideline in this game, coaching the Cal Poly cornerbacks. He will go up against EWU receivers coach Nicholas Edwards, a teammate of Brown’s at Eastern and at Foss High in Tacoma. … Eastern leads the series 5-2 and has won the last three meetings. Two years ago, the Eagles won 35-22 in San Luis Obispo, California and 34-17 the year before in Cheney. … The teams have two common opponents in Northern Iowa and Montana State; the Eagles split those games, falling to UNI 38-35 and beating MSU 55-50. Cal Poly lost to UNI 34-20 and the MSU 45-28.
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