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Sunday, October 25, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Big Sky notes: Extra week helps EWU prepare for Montana State

After emotional games against Sam Houston State and Washington, this week’s bye comes at a perfect time for Eastern Washington. “It’s good to get refocused, get regrouped,” linebacker Cody McCarthy said Tuesday afternoon as the second-ranked Eagles get two weeks to prepare for a nonconference game on Sept. 20 at No. 17 Montana State. “It’ll revitalize us,” McCarthy said. “Montana State is a great team, and to have this extra time to prepare for them, it’s really needed – and conditioning.” Despite last week’s 59-52 loss at Washington, McCarthy pointed to the found some things to build on, including the resilience the Eagles found in overcoming an early 21-0 deficit, and learning from mistakes against the most talented team they’ll face. “We just have to play better, get back to fundamentals and fast football, and getting all 11 hats to the ball,” McCarthy said. If not for ESPN, the Eagles would be preparing this week for Sam Houston State, but that game was moved to Aug. 23. Eastern has a second bye week, on Nov. 15, sandwiched between a home game Nov. 8 against Montana and a Nov. 21 date at Portland State.
Stats that matter
While discussing the UW game Tuesday afternoon, Eastern coach Beau Baldwin made it clear that he doesn’t assign much importance to total yardage – on either side of the ball – and pays even less attention to time of possession. So what does matter? In Baldwin’s opinion, turnovers, third-down conversions and red-zone performance on both sides of the ball. After three games, the Eagles are minus-1 in the turnover department, but the offense leads the Football Championship Subdivision in the other two categories. In 14 trips into the red zone, Eastern is almost perfect, scoring 13 touchdowns and one field goal. On the way to those scores, the Eagles are 30 for 46 on third-down conversions (65.2 percent). “Usually, when you see a championship team, they’re pretty good at what they do in the red zone and what they do on third down,” Baldwin said. Eastern ranks 48th in third-down defense, as opponents have converted 18 of 46 chances. The Eagles are tied for last in red zone defense: Out of 10 chances, opponents have scored eight touchdowns and two field goals.
Johnson will play
Montana football coach Mick Delaney said quarterback Jordan Johnson will be ready to play Saturday when the fourth-ranked Grizzlies host South Dakota. Johnson sat out Saturday’s game against Central Washington after suffering a concussion in the season-opener against Wyoming. In his absence, backup Shay Smithwick-Hamm completed 10 of 16 passes for 145 yards and an 85-yard touchdown to Travon Van against Division II Central Washington. In that game, running back Travon Van touched the ball six times but scored four TDs. Besides the TD catch, Van had scoring runs of 31, 9 and 43 yards.
Montana is the top Big Sky team in this week’s Sagarin Ratings. The Grizzlies are ranked seventh in the FCS and 74th overall. EWU is 10th among FCS teams. Montana State (17), Northern Arizona (25) and Portland State (131) also rank in the top 30. The Big Sky is ranked fourth among FCS conferences behind the Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley and CAA. … Neither Weber State nor Northern Colorado picked up victories last Saturday, but the results were encouraging. Weber State, which won two games last season, fell at home to No. 1 North Dakota State 24-7. Northern Colorado nearly ended its 11-game losing streak with an upset of UNLV of the Mountain West. The Rebels held on for a 13-12 victory. Northern Colorado missed a 23-yard field goal with 5:01 to play. … Cal Poly’s Nick Dzubnar tallied a career-high 19 tackles in a loss to South Dakota State. … Idaho State’s Mario Jenkins, a redshirt freshman, recorded a career-high 16 tackles with an interception in a loss to Utah State. … Sacramento State’s Garrett Safron scored on a 73-yard run in a loss to Cal. It was the longest scoring run by a Hornet since 2004.
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