The school year has barely begun, but the Eastern Washington football team just hit midterms.
The test is scheduled for Saturday at Roos Field against much-improved Northern Colorado, and it happens to fall smack in the middle of the schedule and just before a bye week.
What better way to gauge the progress of a team that’s been a pleasant surprise so far, but still looking a complete game?
“I want us to be more consistent offensively and defensively, and I feel like we’ve just been a little sporadic, especially in our two home games,” said EWU head coach Beau Baldwin, whose fourth-ranked Eagles are 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Sky Conference going into Saturday’s homecoming game.
Baldwin would like to his players to kick into gear before halftime. Home wins against Northern Iowa and UC Davis didn’t happen until the Eagles had dug themselves a two-score hole by halftime.
The Eagles have trailed at intermission in every game except Northern Arizona. Even then they needed a long field goal to take a 22-21 lead into the locker room. However, their third quarters have been golden, with Eastern outscoring opponents 87-21.
“It’s always hard to come from behind, and we have found a way to do that in every game this season,” Baldwin said. “Our players are resilient that way, and as long as we have that, we know we always have a shot to win.”
It also helps when you average 546.4 yards in total offense, which ranks second in the FCS, along with a top-rated passing game led by surprising sophomore quarterback Gage Gubrud and an even more surprising offensive line that’s not only young but overcoming injuries.
Like the offense, the Eastern defense is playing its best in the second half, pressuring quarterbacks and getting off the field on third down. People are noticing.
“That’s the best defensive line we’ve faced yet,” said Northern Colorado offensive coordinator John Boyer, who’s already faced Colorado State and Northern Arizona.
Northern Colorado (3-1, 1-0), is led by sophomore running back Trae Riek, a 5-foot-11, 200-pounder who has 80 carries for 404 yards.
Senior quarterback Kyle Sloter (63 for 92 for 880 yards) ranks third in the conference in passing efficiency, two spots ahead of Gubrud.
Since Northern Colorado joined the Big Sky in 2006, Eastern has won all eight meetings, by an average score of 31-17. Eastern barely won 43-41 last year in Greeley, Colorado, 26-18 at home in 2014, and had to rally for a 35-28 victory in 2010 in Greeley. … Eastern is 53-33-3 in its previous 89 homecoming contests but had its streak of six straight wins snapped last year with a 52-30 loss to Northern Arizona. The streak from 2009-14 dated back to a 15-13 loss to Sacramento State in 2008.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.