As Eastern Washington football fans contemplate the future health costs of one heart-stopping win after another, coach Beau Baldwin has some advice.
Even when a 12-point lead as turned into a one-point deficit in the blink of an eye, and even when your third-string kicker is walking onto the field with 5 seconds left for a make-or-break field goal try from 44 yards.
A few days after Jordan Dascalo kicked the Eagles to a 43-41 win at Northern Colorado – Eastern’s fourth win this year by a touchdown or less – Baldwin was asked if all these close games were taking a toll.
“Not at all,” he smiled as Eastern prepared for Saturday’s game against Weber State, perhaps the only Big Sky Conference team that’s more unpredictable than the Eagles themselves.
Then, Baldwin offered a warning. “They’re only going to get tougher,” he said as fifth-ranked Eastern heads into the final four games of the regular season at 5-2 overall and 4-0 in the Big Sky.
If that’s an implication that Weber is the easiest game left on the schedule (which also includes Northern Arizona, Montana and Portland State) it wasn’t intentional.
The Wildcats are only 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the conference, but own wins over Montana and North Dakota. Quarterback Jadrian Clark operates behind an offensive line that averages 300 pounds, and he’s likely to keep the Eagles off-balance by threatening to run. The defense is stout in the middle and has one of the most athletic secondaries on the conference.
“They’re tough, and they don’t back down on anything,” said Baldwin who compared Weber to the Sam Houston State teams Eastern faced in the last three seasons. “They have some good athletes and they have a physical nature that says a lot about their mental toughness.”
“They’re going to come at you,” Baldwin said.
Statistically, the Wildcats don’t do anything especially well; their offense is among the worst in the Football Championship Subdivision at converting third downs (33.3 percent) and is dead last in the Big Sky in pass efficiency (107.5).
They’re also the most-penalized team in the conference and are minus-2 in turnovers.
On the other hand, they rank among the league’s best in sacking the quarterback (with 2.5 per game) and red-zone defense (allowing opponents to score on just 75 percent of possessions inside the Weber 20-yard-line).
That’s the biggest challenge for a EWU offense that’s still seeking consistency in the running game; in conference games only, the Eagles are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Only three teams are worse.
It’s the same story on defense, where Eastern gives up 4.9 yards per carry. A unit that had stiffened in the second half against Sac State, Cal Poly and Idaho State gave up two late scores at Northern Colorado.
“I don’t believe it’s a personnel deal or a scheme deal,” Weber State coach Jay Hill said of Eastern’s defense. “There’s been some times when they’ve been very good.”
This will be Baldwin’s 100th game at Eastern as head coach; through seven-plus seasons, his record is 72-27 overall and 49-11 in Big Sky games. … Eastern leads the all-time series 18-14 and has won six of the last seven meetings. In their last meeting, in 2013, the Eagles won 41-14 in Cheney. … Eastern has won 21 of its last 22 league games, including 18 straight at home dating back to 2011.
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