There are no quarterback controversies at Eastern Washington, only opportunities.
And competition, to use one of coach Beau Baldwin’s favorite words.
That was the message from players and coaches on Tuesday – three days after Reilly Hennessey came off the bench to lead the Eagles to a 34-30 comeback win over Northern Iowa, and three days before they fly to Northern Arizona for the Big Sky Conference opener.
Asked the quarterback situation, Baldwin opened with what appeared to be a shocker – unless you know the program and its head man.
“It’s day-to-day, it’s absolutely wide-open,” Baldwin said as his players warmed up at Roos Field.
Then Baldwin warmed to the subject, and sounded just like the coach who successfully managed the Kyle Padron-Vernon Adams controversy, er, competition in 2012.
That year, Baldwin parlayed the dissimilar styles of Padron and Adams all the way to the national semifinals.
It could happen again this year for the surprising Eagles, who are 2-1 ranked fourth in the nation thanks partly to what Baldwin calls a “luxury” of depth at quarterback.
“It’s something where there’s been competition for a long time,” Baldwin said of Hennessey, Gage Gubrud and Jordan West. “There was competition all spring, all of fall camp, there was competition going into that (Northern Iowa) game and within that game.”
“And now we’re out here on Tuesday and we’ve got competition again – and we’ll see where we land on Saturday,” Baldwin said.
Going into last weekend, Gubrud was putting up video-game numbers as Eastern knocked off Washington State and took FCS powerhouse North Dakota State to overtime. He was – and still is – the leading passer in the country, with 1,038 yards, and ranks seventh in FCS in passing efficiency.
But he struggled against UNI, missing throws he made in previous games. He finished 13 for 26 for 114 yards and two interceptions.
“It was a couple of little things that stacked up,” said Gubrud, a redshirt sophomore from McMcMinnville, Oregon. “I made some mistakes, and I was a little inaccurate on some throws.”
Midway through the third quarter, with Eastern trailing 24-14, Baldwin made the switch. Hennessey had seen plenty of action last year in backing up West, and found his rhythm almost immediately.
“I’m not going to say I don’t get butterflies – I did for a couple of snaps – but I still prepare every time that I’m going to take the first snap,” said Hennessey, a redshirt sophomore from Camas, Washington.
As the Eagle defense kept UNI out of the end zone in the second half, Hennessey completed 21 of 29 passes for 226 yards and three scores. The biggest came on a fake field goal, as he passed to tight end Beau Byus for a 23-yard game winner with 43 seconds left.
“It was an awesome experience,” Hennessey said. “But as coach always says, you let it sink in for about 24 hours. …”
Hennessey voice trailed off, and he trotted off to compete.
Notes: All-American wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who missed the UNI game, is questionable this week with a shoulder sprain. Also questionable are linebacker Alek Kacmarcik (concussion), nose tackle Matt Sommer, wide receiver Keenan Williams (ankle) and center Jerrod Jones (knee).
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