Nothing like a sunny afternoon and a perfectly placed bye week to put the Eastern Washington football players in a good mood.
Oh, and being 5-1 while exceeding everyone’s expectations but their own.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” coach Beau Baldwin said Tuesday. “If I compare it to other teams from our past, I think in a lot of areas we’re as good as we’ve been. “
“There are other areas we have to still catch up – you have to strive after perfection even though no one can achieve that,” Baldwin said.
The players recognize it too.
“We’re content but we’re not satisfied,” safety Mitch Fettig said before practice at Roos Field, one of only two this week before the coaches hit the recruiting trail and the players get a few days off.
Fettig will go home to Olympia, catch up with friends and also catch a high school game or two. When he returns, the fourth-ranked Eagles will resume preparations for the last five regular-season games, beginning Oct. 22 at Montana State.
Pleasant surprised have filled the first six weeks. Sophomore quarterback Gage Gubrud is among the national FCS passing leaders, completing over 70 percent of his passes for 2,351 yards, 23 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
The offensive line has overcome injuries and its own inexperience, and the next generation of running backs is emerging to critical acclaim. The receiving corps is living up to its preseason accolades.
“It’s just what I expected,” wide receiver Nic Sblendorio said. “Every week, it’s been another person breaking out.”
Last week – against a Northern Colorado defense that paid too much attention to Cooper Kupp – it was Shaq Hill, who caught a school-record four touchdowns in a 49-31 win. Running back Sam McPherson had a career day with 46 yards rushing and 68 receiving against a three-man rush.
“I didn’t expect that at all,” McPherson said. “Usually you don’t have to do checkdowns with our receivers, so it felt great to get some of those checkdowns and get something out of them.”
Defensively, the Eagles are still giving up to many yards (461 yards per game, 107th in FCS), but are clamping down in the second half. They’re also getting better on third down; two weeks into the season, they were second-worst in the nation. Now they’re up to 97th.
“Third downs are great,” safety Mitch Fettig said. Aided by a strong pass rush, “The “secondary is making plays in the air – it forces the quarterback to make throws he doesn’t want to make,” Fettig said.
The bottom line: 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big Sky, or only one game better than last year’s team that stumbled to a 6-5 finish.
Comparing the teams, Baldwin said, “Maybe we’re in a little better control of games. In that way, that has been definitely been big for us, but at the end of the day we have to earn it.”
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