This road trip will be yet another challenge for EWU
Eastern faces North Dakota in Grand Forks
Grand Forks might be new territory for the Eastern Washington University football team, but not to their head coach Beau Baldwin.
While the Eagles (1-0 Big Sky, 3-2 overall) will visit the city of some 50,000 that sits smack dab on the eastern border of the state, Baldwin has been to the Alerus Center before and he wants to make sure the result of the last visit is not duplicated.
That was Sept. 15, 2007 when his Central Washington University Wildcats fell short in a 35-28 loss to the then No. 2 ranked NCAA Division II Fighting Sioux. CWU twice battled back to tie the score only to see UND win in the final two minutes.
Of course things have changed a bit for both Baldwin who, after one season in Ellensburg, was hired at Eastern. And North Dakota has elevated its football program to the FCS level, lost its nickname and won’t have a new one until 2015.
UND’s 21,000 seat indoor stadium can be a tough place to play, Baldwin recalled. “That dome can be loud, especially if it’s packed,” Baldwin said.
But it will be the players who really make the difference of course.
“Defense is what North Dakota (1-1, 2-3) hangs its helmet on,” Baldwin said in Monday’s EWU Coaches Show.
They are solid everywhere, he said of UND which went on the road for the first time this season and scored a 28-25 win at Idaho State. The offense, defense and special teams all scored points, including Greg Hardin’s 99-yard kickoff return, the third of his UND career.
Offensively their receivers – like Hardin – are their strength, Baldwin said. “If you have a receiving corps that’s a strength and a quarterback that gets hot, that can be tough.”
North Dakota starts freshman Joe Molberg who was 18-for-27 for 237 yards but no touchdowns and two interceptions.
“So we’ve got to do a good job up front getting pressure and not giving that quarterback time,” Baldwin said.
And there’s special teams.
“If you are at all close in a ballgame and a team outplays one team on special teams, a lot of times that’s the difference in a ballgame,” Baldwin said. There are stats that even prove it.
“Coach Schmed (special teams coordinator Jeff Schmedding) brings it up all the time,” Baldwin said. “If you’re a team that gives up a blocked punt you lose 75 percent of the time.”
If there’s another key difference between his 2007 visit, and the one he’ll make this time it’s how his team will get to Grand Forks.
Thanks to playing at Toledo, Eastern will charter a plane and fly direct. Otherwise, getting to Grand Forks can be a challenge Baldwin knows well.
“I was at Central Washington and we commercialed in there and it was nuts,” Baldwin said. “We had two different groups go out, one group went out about five hours before the other group and got there at different times.”
It’s a different type of trip to commercial into. And Baldwin appreciates the support he’s gotten from school administrators.
Chartering lets players get on their practice field Friday and “put our best product on the field come Saturday.”
“We were 12 hours on a bus to Oregon State, this is going to feel like nothing,” Baldwin said.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.