For the record, Beau Baldwin isn’t dwelling on Eastern’s rough start.
The Eagles are 0-2 for only the third time in Baldwin’s eight seasons as EWU’s head coach, but there’s too much work to do and no time to fret.
“I don’t know that there’s any more pressure on being 0-2 or 1-1,” Baldwin said before practice on Tuesday, three days after a 38-35 loss at Northern Iowa that kept the Eagles winless going into Saturday’s sold-out home opener against Montana State.
However, another loss would leave the Eagles with little margin for error if they hope to reach the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the fourth straight year.
On top of that, 14th-ranked Eastern is struggling to play consistently on both sides of the ball and dealing with injuries at several positions. But at least the Eagles know what they’re about – unlike No. 8 Montana State, which opened with an easy win over Division II Fort Lewis and had last weekend off.
“I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both sides,” Baldwin said, noting that the Bobcats might be fresh but that the Eagles have “played against a lot of speed and going on the road.”
“It all comes down to who’s the better team on Saturday,” said Baldwin, who spent the weekend distilling what the Eagles need to do to ensure that they’re better than the Bobcats in three days’ time.
Looking back at the Northern Iowa game, Baldwin said “I’m not focused on what happened in those 3 1/2 hours; I’m focused on what we can do to be more detailed during the week so we can let ’er rip on Saturday.”
Specifically, that means improvement in three key areas:
• Bolstering a running game that’s averaging just 2.4 yards per carry and 68.5 yards a game;
• Cutting down on penalties. So far the Eagles are the most penalized team in FCS with 26 flags for 245 yards;
• Getting off the field on defense, where Eastern ranks third-worst among 115 FCS teams in first downs given up (with 59) and fourth-worst in rushing defense (375.5 yards per game).
Injuries have figured in some of those shortcomings. The ground game suffered when the Eagles lost two offensive linemen – both right tackles – in the past two weeks, and that forced players to move from other positions. Several veterans were missing on defense last week, which may have contributed to communicating proper run fits.
Baldwin offered few updates to the initial injury report released Monday. He said that All-America wide receiver and punt returner Cooper Kupp is still questionable with a hip pointer, while wideout Shaq Hill (knee) probably won’t play. Running back Jalen Moore (ankle) and backup right tackle Jerrod Jones (knee) are questionable, but safety Zach Bruce (shoulder) practiced and is listed as probable. Backup QB Reilly Hennessey is expected to miss two to three weeks with an ankle injury.
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