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Friday, September 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

Eastern faces tough Bears run defense

Good thing Eastern Washington likes to throw the ball.

Running figures to be problematic on Saturday, when the Eagles face a rugged Central Arkansas defense that gives up just 72 yards on the ground.

Looking ahead to EWU’s second-round FCS playoff opponent, coach Beau Baldwin said he’s impressed with the Bears’ entire defense, but especially the line.

“They go as their D-line goes,” Baldwin said Wednesday. “Any team that gives up just 72 yards rushing has to start with the guys up front – they’re not only filling gaps, they’re making plays.”

That’s high praise when your opponent plays a 3-4 scheme, but it’s appropriate. The Bears’ starting front line of end Cardell Best, nose tackle Terence Partee and defensive tackle Jordan Toliver combine size and athleticism, and the results are impressive.

Central Arkansas ranks 14th in total defense (320 yards), 15th in scoring defense (20.9 points) and a lofty 10th in third-down conversion defense (30.4 percent). Even when teams manage to reach the red zone, they’re scoring only 77 percent of the time.

“You can’t be 10-2 without having some playmakers on defense,” Baldwin said.

The Bears have them in the secondary as well. Rover George Odum and cornerbacks Tyler Williams and Tremon Smith were all-Southland Conference first-team picks after holding opponents to a 115 pass efficiency rating, 22nd best in the nation.

Williams led the league in passes defended with 24, including a team-high four interceptions. Smith tied for third in the conference with 13 passes defended, including two interceptions.

Of course, the Bears haven’t faced many offenses like Eastern’s nation-leading passing attack. When they did, confidence took a big jolt, as Sam Houston State dismantled them 59-23 in a game that decided the Southland title.

Apparently, Central Arkansas was still reeling a week later, as visiting Southern Illinois took a two-score lead into the fourth quarter of their first-round game last week.

However, the Bears used a blocked punt by Odum to spur a 24-point rally that third-year coach Steve Campbell hopes will carry over into this week.

“That was a great comeback for us – the guys showed a lot of effort and resilience,” Campbell said.

Baldwin won’t compare teams

Asked to compare this year’s team to his 2010 national champions, Baldwin deflected the question.

“I have a lot of confidence in what we can do with this team,” Baldwin said of a squad that’s 10-1 and seeded second in the FCS playoffs. “This team has its own uniqueness. … I believe we have the type of outfit that has the ability to make a deep run.”

The 2010 squad, which beat Delaware 20-19 for the title, didn’t have the offensive firepower of this year’s team, but made big plays in every phase of the game. That year the Eagles had an amazing 46 takeaways on the way to a plus-13 turnover margin.

Regardless of the team, Baldwin said “It takes the day-to-day details to win ballgames. If you go back to 2010, we were thinking the same thing.”

Greetings from Cheney

There’s nothing like a little friendly card to set the tone for the week.

After Monday’s snowstorm, Eastern’s sports information department passed the news via Twitter to the folks at Central Arkansas.

Accompanied by a foreboding picture of snow-covered Roos Field, the message read “Hey CA_Bears, do you want to build a snowman this weekend?”

They got the message in Conway, Arkansas, where temperatures are in the upper-50 this week.

“That got our attention,” Campbell said.

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