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Eagles’ defense shows progress

Held UC Davis to 260 total yards

EWU coach Beau Baldwin was pleased with defense. (Associated Press)
EWU coach Beau Baldwin was pleased with defense. (Associated Press)

Some of Eastern Washington’s young defenders weren’t using their heads last weekend, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

After reviewing film of the Eagles’ 37-14 win Saturday at UC Davis, coach Beau Baldwin said the defense “played a little faster and freer” than in previous games against Washington and Montana State.

The reason? “The less you have to think, the faster you can play, at any position,” Baldwin said. “As younger players, the more reps they take, the faster they’re able to play without thinking.”

That wasn’t the only reason Eastern held the Aggies to 260 total yards – UC Davis’ offense isn’t exactly a field-stretcher – but it was a step in the right direction; the Eagles had given up 536 at UW and 546 at MSU.

“It definitely was a confidence builder,” linebacker Miquiyah Zamora said before practice Tuesday at Roos Field, where the second-ranked Eagles will host Idaho State on Saturday. “We just have to focus on being ourselves. It’s just a matter of getting better every week.”

That showed up last week in almost every important statistic: the Eagles (4-1) were plus-1 in turnovers, held the Aggies to 33 percent (4 for 12) on third down and 3.3 yards per rush on 26 attempts. In so doing, they turned a running team into a fitful passing outfit.

Said defensive end Zackary Johnson: “It’s nice to see things that we emphasized in practices, like turnovers, come through in a game, getting stops early and when we need them.”

“It was fun to see people go out there and make that happen,” Johnson said.

This week they’ll have to make it happen against an Idaho State offense that’s looking less one-dimensional every week. The traditionally pass-heavy Bengals (2-2) earned a 44-24 win over Sacramento State mostly by throwing the ball 49 times (for 448 yards), but ran it 39 times for another 191 yards and three TDs.

Bengals quarterback Justin Arias already has 1,196 yards and has just four interceptions in 175 pass attempts. Madison Mangum (29 catches, 404 yards, 3 TDs) is the top target, but six others have at least a six catches.

Running back Xavier Finney is averaging 4.9 yards a carry and has 514 yards and five TDs. For the season, ISU has passed the ball 176 times and run it 166.

“That definitely makes it more difficult to prepare for,” safeties coach Jeff Schmedding said. “Now you’re getting closer to 40 percent running the ball – you can see the improvement.”

Notes

Running back Quincy Forte (shoulder) didn’t practice Tuesday; his status is uncertain for Saturday. … A sellout is expected for Idaho State, the Eagles’ first home game since Aug. 30, and temporary bleachers are in place at the south end of Roos Field. Eastern’s crowds of 10,310 for the Sam Houston State game and 9,116 for Montana Western were the 17th and 18th sellouts (crowd of 8,600-plus) at Roos Field in school history.

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