In so many ways, football practice at Roos Field on Tuesday was all about adjusments.
The Eastern Washington players and coaches were adjusting to a rare home defeat, the pressure of two must-win games to close the season and an uncertain quarterback situation.
But adjusting to playing at Montana? That’s easy, especially in November.
“The fans help make it a fun atmosphere,” said Eastern wide receiver Cooper Kupp. “We’re looking forward to it.”
Even more than most Eagle-Griz matchups, Saturday’s game at Washington-Grizzly Stadium has a lot at stake. Coming off a 52-30 loss to Northern Arizona, the Eagles (6-3 overall, 5-1 in the Big Sky Conference) need to regroup with a win that would not only put them closer to an FCS playoff berth but take the 5-4 Grizzlies out of the running.
That’s easier said than done, especially for an Eastern team that struggled on both sides of the ball last week. For the defense, it was getting off the field. NAU converted 13 of 19 third-down opportunities, many of them the result of poor tackling.
Said cornerback Victor Gamboa, “On most of those third downs, we had hands on the ballcarrier, but we need to wrap them up and bring them down.”
According to defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding, the third-down struggles negated an otherwise solid effort that included a season high in tackles for loss.
“We did a good job of getting those tackles for loss, but then you give those right back on third down,” Schmedding said.
On offense, Baldwin pointed to four turnovers as pivotal. He also did some digging.
Concerned that his players aren’t fully aware of the importance of winning the turnover battle, Baldwin checked the records and found some eye-opening stats.
In the last 78 games dating back to 2010, the 10th-ranked Eagles have lost the turnover battle on 28 occasions. Their record in those games: 13-15. When the turnover margin was even, the Eagles were 14-4.
And when they won the turnover battle? The Eagles were 32-0.
“That gets their attention,” Baldwin said.
That point made, Baldwin addressed the Eagles’ quarterback situation, saying that their performances in practice will decide whether Jordan West or Reilly Hennessey will start at Montana.
Comparing it to the competition in 2010 between Kyle Padron and Vernon Adams Jr., Baldwin said, “We’ll probably play it out this week and get a feel for what they’re doing.”
Specifically, that means how each makes his post-snap reads – a problem for West in recent games, especially against NAU.
“We have to be able to handle when teams do thing things that are a little different and a little off the cuff,” noted Baldwin, especially when those wrinkles weren’t seen on game film.
“The question is, are we adjusting quickly within the game and getting to our postsnap reads?” Baldwin said.
In other words, that’s one more adjustment for the Eagles.
Starting roverback Todd Raynes and starting center T.J. Boatright are questionable after suffering knee inuries last week. … Eastern has won the last four meetings with Montana, including the first meeting between the two teams in the FCS Playoffs last December in Cheney. But the Grizzlies dominated the series before that, and still hold a 26-15-1 advantage dating back to 1938. Eastern is 5-14-1 in Missoula.