POCATELLO, Idaho – Even on the high plains of eastern Idaho, the Eastern Washington football team is in familiar territory.
The Eagles are ranked eighth in the Football Championship Subdivision, riding a three-game win streak and finding themselves atop the Big Sky Conference standings – again.
Not bad for a team that’s still in the process of finding itself, coach Beau Baldwin said during the Eagles’ walkthrough Friday at Holt Arena ahead of Saturday’s game against Idaho State.
“We need to find out more about who we are and what we are about,” Baldwin said.
Recently, the Eagles (3-2 overall, 2-0 Big Sky) have been about winning the close ones – three straight over Montana State, Sacramento State and Cal Poly by a combined 14 points. They’ve lived on the edge with a defense that’s gone from sieve-like to suffocating from one quarter to the next, and with an offense that seems to play better on third-and-long than first-and-10.
So are the Eagles due for a dominating win, or an upset loss?
This doesn’t feel like a trap game, which means it probably is. Two years ago, a 3-5 Idaho State team led the third-ranked Eagles 24-17 late in the second quarter before Eastern pulled away. This year, Idaho State is 2-4 overall, but the Bengals are coming off a big 37-31 win at North Dakota. Their quarterback, Michael Sanders, has found his groove and the defense is finally healthy.
Moreover, anything seems possible this year in a conference that seems even less predictable than usual; Portland State and North Dakota are up and Montana is down. The only constant so far has been Eastern, though Baldwin would like to see some more consistency on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, Baldwin wants a quicker start; last week, Cal Poly scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions en route to 21-6 lead. Meanwhile, the Eastern offense went three-and-out on five possessions.
“It’s the stall-outs from the beginning (of drives) that have killed us,” said Baldwin, who noted that the Eagles have done well after getting that initial first down. And when they don’t?
“That’s huge just from from a morale standpoint,” guard Aaron Neary said. “The defense gets a stop, and then we go three-and-out and they’re back out there.”
“We have to keep it going,” Neary said.
Two years ago in Pocatello, Eastern racked up a school-record 743 yards total offense in a 55-34 win. … Eastern leads the all-time series with ISU 27-9, last losing by a 34-30 score in Pocatello in 2005. … Eastern is ranked for the 51st straight week, Idaho State ranks 37th in FCS in total offense with 416 yards a game, but ranks next to last out of 123 teams in rushing defense (323 per game). … This is Eastern’s 55th game in a dome. The Eagles are 27-27 indoors, but have dropped their last two, including a 28-27 loss at Northern Arizona last year and 38-35 setback at Northern Iowa earlier this season. However, the Eagles are 13-4 at Holt Arena. … The Bengals are home after four straight road games.