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Eastern Washington’s safety play will be key to containing Cal Poly’s triple option offense

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 6, 2015

Eastern's Todd Raynes returns from injury this week against Cal Poly. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern's Todd Raynes returns from injury this week against Cal Poly. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

As the Eastern Washington defense prepares for Cal Poly’s triple option, the Eagles have a few options of their own.

One of them is senior defensive back Todd Raynes, who walked onto Roos Field on Tuesday afternoon with an extra spring in his step.

“I’m cleared to play,” smiled Raynes, who’d missed two straight games with a hamstring injury but will be back in action for Saturday’s Big Sky Conference home game.

And not a moment too soon: Raynes and the other safeties will be key players as the seventh-ranked Eagles (2-2) confront Cal Poly’s seldom-seen triple option that demands a commitment to stopping the run − but without giving up the big pass play.

“You’ve just got to be disciplined,” said fellow safety Zach Bruce, who also missed a game this year to injury.

Raynes’ return comes at a perfect time for the Eagles coaches, who will move Raynes back to his old spot at safety and keep redshirt freshman Cole Karstetter at roverback for this game.

For Raynes, who faced the Mustangs in 2012 and 2013, the move makes sense “because I know how to keep my eyes right, with the keys and being able to get in the run fit.”

That’s important, because Poly leads the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing with an average of 364 yards a game and averages 24 first downs. That’s especially concerning to an Eastern defense that has struggled to get off the field.

“It starts with discipline and toughness,” said Eastern defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding, who also coaches safeties. “They can give you multiple formations … it requires toughness and effort – a physical, man-up kind of game.”

That’s the kind of game Idaho State didn’t bring to the field last weekend in San Luis Obispo, California. The Mustangs beat ISU by running 90 plays – all but nine of them on the ground – and gaining 605 yards. Idaho State trailed just 28-20 at halftime, but gave up a 59-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to fall behind 49-20.

“You have to be great with your eyes and be great defeating cut blocks,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said. “You know they’re going to get five or six or seven big plays, but you have to limit those – you can’t fall asleep in the pass game.”

The Mustangs are 2-3 overall and 1-1 in the Big Sky, but took a 20-19 win at Montana on Sept. 5. A week later, they were tied with Arizona State going to the fourth quarter before falling 35-21.

“I don’t look at the records,” Baldwin said of Cal Poly and his own squad. “It’s two teams that can be right in the (Big Sky) hunt when it’s all said and done.”

Notes: Baldwin didn’t get into specifics about injured players, saying that several will be evaluated through the week. However, backup quarterback Reilly Hennessey is fully healed from an ankle injury suffered last month and wide receiver Nic Sblendorio is back after suffering a shoulder injury on Sept. 26 at Sacramento State. However, left tackle Clay DeBord isn’t expected to play after suffering a concussion at Sac State. Wide receiver Shaq Hill is out after having knee surgery in Sept. 21, while right guard Cassidy Curtis (foot) isn’t expected back until later this month. Injuries have plagued the Eagles all season: Seven starters missed the Sacramento State game because of injuries, a week after six starters and several other players missed the Montana State game on Sept. 19. One week earlier than that, four starters were missing from the Northern Iowa game.

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