Eastern plays 'em to win 'em
Four weeks ago, looking three weeks into their football schedule, not many would have likely pegged Eastern Washington to be where they’re at right now.
In the stats that really count category, that would be a 2-1 won-lost record following the Eagles’ 33-21 loss at Toledo last Saturday.
Not a lot of people figured Eastern would cover the nearly four-score point spread those odds-maker experts rolled out, let alone conquer it in their stunning 49-46 victory over No. 25 Oregon State Beavers Aug. 31 in Corvallis.
Few feared Division II Western Oregon in the lead up to EWU’s 43-14 win in their Roos Field home opener.
That’s of course unless you polled head coach Beau Baldwin, his cadre of assistants, and the 80-something guys who put on the uniform and pads. Many recall Eastern’s 35-32 escape in Seattle to Central Washington.
Baldwin, taking on a lengthy Q&A session from broadcasters Larry Weir and Paul Sorenson at this past Monday’s EWU Coaches Show following their first setback of the season. And as usual there wasn’t a hint of disappointment in his voice.
“I’m excited about where this team is and it’s not just because we’re 2-1 and beat Oregon State,” Baldwin said. “Because of what I see on a day-to-day basis and what I see of the things we’re doing positively, but also the things we need to work on.”
His team, in general, received across-the-board compliments from the Rockets’ staff.
“Sometimes you think, ‘ah are they just saying that,’” Baldwin said. “But I think it was very sincere.”
His players have earned that recognition, Baldwin said. “They’ve worked hard in the offseason, they’ve gotten themselves stronger, they can step up.”
“We don’t look at them as big boys, we look at them as another team on our schedule,” Baldwin said. “They can tell we play that way.”
Eastern wasn’t just coming in to play a big team and collect a check, Baldwin said of the match-up with the 1-2 Rockets out of the Mid American Conference. Toldeo finished the 2012 season 9-4 following a 41-15 loss in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise to Utah State.
Baldwin will tell you regularly following a game – win or lose – that it’s what most don’t see in the daily preparation his team makes on the practice field, the weight room and classroom, that all connects Saturday.
He’s then able to analyze progress in a vastly different manner than the fan in the stands. “I get excited about the inner-workings of how we’re competing play-to-play,” Baldwin said.
The schedule, while rugged, is the test he wants his players to take so they are prepared for bigger exams ahead.
“This is, just like we played a couple of road playoff games, and if that doesn’t prepare you for Big Sky I don’t know what does,” Baldwin said.
Playing two Football Bowl Series teams, plus their next contest at Huntsville, Texas Sept. 28 against Sam Houston State University – the team they fell to 45-42 in the semifinals of the 2012 playoffs last Dec. 15 – provides that challenge.
“I love playing this type of schedule, I love attacking these type of games,” Baldwin said. “I’m one who just wants to play quality opponents.”
Bring ‘em on Baldwin said.
“It’s less of a number to me and more of a ‘Do I feel like this non-league schedule challenged us for the Big Sky, did it prepare us for the Big Sky, did it prepare us later for playoffs?’” Baldwin said. “And that’s what I’m focused on; this non-league schedule definitely does.”
In a perfect world he would love playing a big game FCS non-league game like Sam Houston, Baldwin said. But that’s nearly as tough a challenge as ending up in the win-column against the OSUs and Toledos of the world.
“We don’t get to play that many opponents at our exact level that are in that top-10ish type of deal,” Baldwin said. “They are rare because most of those are on the East Coast or the South.”
However many that ends up being they are going to play them to win them, Baldwin said.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.