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Wednesday, August 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Northern Iowa presents difficult challenge for high-octane Eagles

Eastern Washington starting QB Jordan West (5) completed 23 of 34 passes for 293 yards and three TDs against Oregon last week. (Associated Press)
Eastern Washington starting QB Jordan West (5) completed 23 of 34 passes for 293 yards and three TDs against Oregon last week. (Associated Press)

After watching Eastern put six touchdowns on the board at Oregon, some Eagles fans figure their team can do it every week.

Including today at Northern Iowa.

After all, seventh-ranked Eastern has depth and talent at every offensive position and a track record for lighting up the scoreboard against almost anyone.

Or does it?

Four years ago, Eastern was coming off a national title. The Eagles opened at Washington and hung 509 yards and 27 points in a narrow loss to the Huskies. A week later, the Eagles flew to South Dakota and fell with a thud 30-17.

Two years ago, a 49-46 win at Oregon State was followed two weeks later by a 33-21 defeat at Toledo.

“Every week is its own,” coach Beau Baldwin cautioned as the Eagles prepared for today’s nonconference game at Northern Iowa.

Eastern faces a UNI defense that includes an active front seven and three senior defensive backs.

“They fly around and like to wear you down,” Eastern wide receiver Cooper Kupp said.

So does the crowd at the 16,324-seat UNI Dome, one of the tougher venues in the Football Championship Subdivision. Last year, the Panthers beat eventual FCS finalists North Dakota State and Illinois State en route to their 17th playoff appearance.

“You really have to pack your lunch pail and know that they truly take their game to another level when they are in that dome,” Baldwin said.

Up front, the Panthers’ 4-3 scheme offers what EWU offensive line coach Aaron Best terms a “blue-collar” group that lost two all-Missouri Valley Conference selections last year and averages only 262 pounds but held its own in a 31-7 loss at Iowa State. Outside linebacker Brett McMakin (6-foot-4, 232 pounds) is one of the best in the MVC.

UNI’s strength is its secondary. Senior strong safety Tim Kilfoy (6-1, 215) was an all-MVC first-team selection last year after finishing with 73 tackles and four interceptions.

“Their defense reminds me of what Montana has done in the past – not a ton of flashy stuff, but they do it really well,” Baldwin said. “You can tell why they’re successful.”

Baldwin appears to have two solid choices at quarterback, starter Jordan West (23 for 34 for 293 yards and three touchdowns) and backup Reilly Hennessey (14 for 21 for 145 yards and two TDs).

Notes

Northern Iowa lost 31-7 last week at Iowa State, but you couldn’t tell that from the statistics. The 14th-ranked Panthers were outgained only 310-302, but they gave up 192 return yards, including an 81-yard punt return for the clinching score in the fourth quarter. … Eastern is 0-5 against UNI, with all of the meetings coming in Cedar Falls, Iowa. … The last meeting was in 2005, when UNI took a 41-38 win in the FCS playoffs. … Eastern is 4-9 against members of the MVC. Eastern has the second-most victories in FCS since 2010 (with 52), while Northern Iowa has 38.

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