Call it a quarterback controversy, if you will. Beau Baldwin doesn’t see it that way.
The way Eastern Washington’s coach views it, little has changed since early September, when Jordan West got the start and freshman backup Reilly Hennessey saw the field at Oregon and Northern Iowa.
West brought more experience and Hennessey brought more mobility. Both could move the chains.
So what’s changed? Only the circumstances, the most important being Eastern’s uncertain playoff situation following Saturday’s 52-30 home loss to Northern Arizona. Their six-game winning streak snapped, the 6-3 Eagles are still one – perhaps two – victories away from securing their accustomed spot in the postseason.
So which quarterback offers the best chance of beating Montana and Portland State, both of whom are vying for playoff spots themselves?
Is it West, who earlier this season was the most efficient passer in the Football Championship Subdivision, but has struggled lately? Or is it Hennessey, who showed poise under fire at Oregon and Northern Iowa, but missed several weeks with an ankle injury in the latter game and hasn’t seen much playing time since?
Asked that question Monday night, Baldwin could only offer some advice to the Grizzlies: “If I were Montana right now, I’d be preparing for two quarterbacks,” he said.
Then Baldwin brought down the house during his weekly show at Northern Quest: “If I were Montana, I’d try to get an ear in here and try to figure out what’s going on – but none of you guys are going to know what’s going on either.”
At that point, Baldwin moved on to other topics, notably four EWU turnovers that played a large role in Saturday’s loss. However, it was West who threw a fourth-quarter pick-6 that was the beginning of the end for the Eagles in their first regular-season home loss in more than four years.
For some fans, it was that turnover that brought Eastern’s quarterback quandary into higher relief. Enter Hennessey, who drove the Eagles downfield for a touchdown that gave the Eagles a brief glimmer of hope.
Only four weeks ago, West led the nation in pass efficiency (194.8), passing touchdowns (19) and completion percentage (.734), and was second in passing yards per game (353.4).
Since then, West’s rating has dropped 31 points. In the last two games, against Weber State and NAU, he’s completed barely half his passes (32-for-63) for a combined 364 yards.
He’s also looked uncertain in the pocket.
Said Baldwin, “He’s going through a time where he’s not playing at level he was earlier this year.”
In his weekly podcast, Baldwin said opponents are doing a better job of disguising coverages. “He (West) believes something pre-snap, and they’re rolling to something else.”
“Good defenses are going to find ways to show a QB new looks,” said Baldwin, who emphasized that the Eagles are doing the same thing during practices.
In fact, they’re doing that will all three quarterbacks, including third-stringer Gage Gubrud. That happened last week, when preparations for NAU provided for Hennessey seeing action in the first half.
That didn’t happen, partly because West was moving the team and partly because the Eagles had just four possessions in the first half.
“So it didn’t work out the way we thought it would,” Baldwin said.
The plan is unchanged for Montana. “It’s the same thing going into this week: that we’re going to be bery open in how we practice.”
“We’re going to get a good feel for where they’re at. .. both of them need to be ready going into Saturday’s game.”