The sun was still high in the sky when Halloween descended on the Eastern Washington campus.
It came in the form of football coach Aaron Best, who walked onto Roos Field dressed in an all-black S.W.A.T. vest, accessorized with helmet and sunglasses.
While managing to keep a straight face, Best explained that on this day, “S.W.A.T.” stood for “Specialized Workforce Addressing Turnovers,” and that “someone” had commissioned him to look into the problem.
Best also wore a badge, as bright and shiny as the moment. A few yards away, players were smiling, which was the whole point going into Saturday’s big home game against Weber State.
“We can’t take ourselves too seriously,” Best said. “We’ve got to make sure we have some fun with the process.”
For Best, the process began weeks ago as the Eagles’ turnover margin dipped further into the red. It continued on Oct. 20, after a 46-28 loss at Southern Utah that left the Eagles 5-3 overall, 4-1 in the Big Sky Conference, and minus-11 in turnovers for the season.
After two weeks of addressing – and not addressing – the turnover problem, Best must have spent his bye week searching for a new approach.
For running back Antoine Custer Jr., who lost a fumble at Southern Utah, the gesture was appreciated.
“I’m not surprised Coach did it,” Custer said Tuesday before practice. “This is better team-wise, to keep talking about it, so we take it serious during practice. Then, during a game, it isn’t a problem – you just make sure you hold the ball high and tight.”
That will be a must against the 19th-ranked Wildcats (6-2, 4-1), who lead the conference in turnover margin after forcing five turnovers last week against Montana.
That left Weber State in a three-way tie for second place with 11th-ranked Eastern and Southern Utah, one game behind Northern Arizona.
To stay in the race, Eastern will need to clean up a few other problems from the Southern Utah game. Besides the turnovers, Eastern struggled with an inconsistent offense that managed just one scoring drive after the first quarter.
That won’t do against a Weber State defense that leads the conference in most categories.
“They like to play in-your-face, man-to-man defense and challenge you each and every play,” Best said. “They have enough experience to make things miserable on offenses.”
That, in turn, left the Eastern defense on the field for 88 plays.
Assessing that game and others, defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said that “the biggest thing is looking at our execution. We have to do a better job of getting off the field – we’ve got to take some snaps off the game, by takeaways or winning on third down.”
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