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Fourth-ranked Eastern awaits emergence of running game

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 3, 2015

The football season is in the home stretch – the perfect time for Eastern Washington’s running game to hits its stride.

It hasn’t. The Eagles are unbeaten in the Big Sky Conference and ranked fourth in the Football Championship Subdivision, but the ground game isn’t keeping up. After five conference games, Eastern’s 3.7 yards per carry average ranks near the bottom of the Big Sky.

To put that number in perspective, the Eagles averaged 4.7 yards a carry last year and 5.3 the year before.

“You always want to get up to 4 1/2 or 5 yards a carry,” running backs coach Kiel McDonald said before Tuesday’s practice.

McDonald noted that the the per-carry number has been depressed by some “funny games” that have involved an unusually high number of goal-line and short-yardage situations.

That’s true, but after 173 rushing attempts in five Big Sky games, the Eagles haven’t broken a run longer than 21 yards.

Players and coaches agree: 3.7 yards a carry won’t do in November, especially with a tough home stretch that includes playoff hopefuls Northern Arizona, Montana and Portland State.

The reasons are manifold:

For center T.J. Boatright, success is a matter of the offensive line “just being on the same page, and identify your stacks a little better.”

For running back Jalen Moore, it’s about “being more patient and letting the blocks develop.”

For tight end Terry Jackson II, a solid ground game is a matter of “executing up front and coming out a little angry and the running game will spark itself.”

If only it were that easy. Coach Beau Baldwin noted that in last week’s 14-13 win over Weber State, an inconsistent passing game failed to spread the field and open more running lanes. The Eagles still managed 4 yards a carry through three quarters but hit the wall while trying to protect a one-point lead in the fourth quarter: Seven rushes in the final period netted 3 yards.

Baldwin was disinclined to blame any of that on the weather, on injuries that have hit the offensive line and running back corps.

“Injuries aren’t a factor, not at all. It’s a matter of getting the job done,” Baldwin said. “We have to grind and execute.”

On the other hand, the Eagles have been a running back or two for most of the season. Moore was injured for most of the season. Now it’s Jalen Moore and Malcolm Williams who are recovering.

“I lose one and I get one back – it’s been that kind of a year,” McDonald said.

For now it’s Moore who’s carrying the load, with 54 carries for 263 yards.

“The line’s doing a great job, and I just have to do mine,” McDonald said.


Wilson (ankle) has missed his last two games, and starting defensive tackle Andre Lino (ankle) was held out against Weber State after getting injured on Oct. 24 versus Northern Colorado. Backup defensive lineman Kaleb Levao (knee) and Williams (hamstring) have missed the last three games. Lino is out against this week, while Wilson, Levao and Williams are all listed as questionable.

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