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EWU preps for rugged North Dakota defense

Despite the unusual circumstances, it was business as usual Tuesday afternoon for the Eastern Washington football team. In the players’ minds, at least, the damp cold at Roos Field was even less of a factor than the Eagles’ 28-27 upset loss last weekend at Northern Arizona: They figure to draw strength from both. “Losing is never fun, but you can’t go up without going down,” linebacker Cody McCarthy said as the sixth-ranked Eagles got back to work ahead of Saturday’s Homecoming game against North Dakota. “Now it’s a matter of who’s tougher and who can get back on that horse,” McCarthy said. The Eagles (7-2 overall, 4-1 in the Big Sky Conference) have done that pretty well of late, especially in the month of November. They haven’t lost a regular-season game in November since 2008, and don’t want to start now – especially with all of their preseason goals still attainable. With wins against North Dakota, Montana on Nov. 8 and Portland State on Nov. 21, they’ll match the last two Eastern teams with two overall regular-season losses, and at 10-2 would likely earn a top-four seed in the upcoming FCS playoffs. “In the grand scheme of things, we’re still on track,” McCarthy said. But that will only happen with a bounce-back win against a North Dakota defense that’s among the best in the Big Sky. UND ranks second in total defense, giving up just 345 yards a game in conference games; on the ground, opponents are averaging just 83.8 yards. “They’re led by their defense … it’s fun to watch their style,” said Eastern coach Beau Baldwin, whose own offense has struggled recently, averaging 419 yards the last two weeks against Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona. Those are the lowest outputs of the season, and not coincidentally, those numbers were posted without All-America quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. Adams, who suffered a broken foot on Oct. 4, is listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game. Baldwin said he feels “optimistic about what the doctors are saying … but you don’t want to force that kind of thing,” he said. In his stead, backup Jordan West is 62 for 105 for 758 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception – good numbers unless they’re compared with Adams. “We’re going to keep watching Jordan’s progress; you’re going to go through some highs and lows, but he’s going to keep progressing,” Baldwin said. Defensively, the Eagles gave up 496 yards at NAU, but played what Baldwin called “great situational defense,” including holding the Lumberjacks to four field goal tries, and blocking one of those kicks. This week they’ll face a North Dakota offense that ranks last in the conference both overall (307 yards per game) and rushing (72.5 ypg).
Safety Todd Raynes (shoulder) has missed the last three games. Running back Jabari Wilson (ankle) has also missed the last three games, but did travel to NAU. Running back Jalen Moore (influenza) and tight end Terry Jackson II (ankle) missed the NAU game. Defensive end John Goldwire missed the MSU game with a concussion, returned to play versus UC Davis, but has missed the last three games with a shoulder injury. All five are questionable this week. … Safety Isaiah Jenkins (ankle) missed EWU’s last three games and remains out.
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