Cheney Free Press -

By JOHN McCALLUM
Editor 

Eastern's postseason omission not necessarily a bad thing

Crunch Time

 

November 23, 2017



So, in the end, the Eastern Washington University football team’s bid for another postseason appearance falls short.

I should be joining the multitudes in Eagle Nation screaming “We got hosed” after Eastern was rejected for an at-large selection in the upcoming Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. After all, I think we did get hosed, and by all of the metrics presented since Sunday’s selection show, we probably did.

Eastern finished the season ranked 17th in the STATS FCS Top-25 poll while Northern Arizona — who finished with an identical 7-4 overall and 6-2 Big Sky records — got into the 24-team field ranked 25th. As EWU Sports Information Director Dave Cook pointed out in a Nov. 19 news release, the Eagles didn’t have a “bad” FCS loss, losing only to fellow Big Sky foes Weber State (ranked 11th) and Southern Utah (ranked 12th).

The Lumberjacks didn’t play Weber State, lost at Southern Utah but also lost at unranked Montana.

There are all sorts of other excuses why Eastern is sitting at home this postseason, ranging from our location far from the mainstream (yeah, well, can’t do much about geography) to an East Coast bias among those on the selection committee (perceived, but maybe we should send them a pallet of No Doze anyway).

Some among the seething Eagle masses opined that Eastern should return to playing a softer schedule to pad our playoff resume through wins — instead of quality wins. Maybe, but I’m not an advocate of playing the Savannah State’s of the world just yet. I think we get much more mileage out of our tougher schedule mindset, which includes an FBS team and upper echelon FCS foes.

Besides, barring injuries, the thought process on this scheduling — and I agree — is facing more difficult, challenging opponents early in the year will provide experience when playing challenging and good Big Sky teams later in the season when it matters most.

No, I think the reason we got left out is we’re in the midst of some growing pains. New head coach, new offensive staff, different schemes and a mixture of different players all add up to a team that might not be as ready for the prime time as it has been in the past.

The Eagles made a lot of mistakes this season. We had too many penalties that came at the wrong time, like a 34-yard TD early in the third quarter against Weber State negated by an illegal man downfield call.

We made some of what can only be described as bonehead plays; snapping the ball over the quarterback’s head and thus ending a good drive is one that comes to mind.

There are stats that are pretty telling. Eastern averaged 34.5 points per game; our opponents averaged 33.4. We scored 34 point off turnovers — opponents 50.

The Eagles had six interceptions for 56 return yards while our opponents had 14 for 142.

Our offense converted 46 percent of third downs and 39 percent of fourth down situations — opponents 39 percent and 57 percent.

Eastern scored on 84 percent of its red zone possessions, with 67 percent being touchdowns, vs. our opponents 76 and 69 percent. We averaged 26 minutes, 50 seconds in time of possession per game while our opponents had the ball 33:10.

The Eagles also made some play calls that had many of us fans scratching our heads, such as the decision to go for it on fourth and 3 from our own 47 yard line leading 14-0 early in the second quarter at Southern Utah. We failed, Southern Utah immediately went down and scored and pretty much owned the momentum from then on in the 46-28 conference loss.

The upside of these growing pains — and there’s definitely an upside — is the Eagles can grow out of it. We have lots of talent, a healthy mixture of youth and experience and a dedicated coaching staff I believe are willing to use introspection and learn from mistakes.

We also schedule challenging foes not only to toughen ourselves up for conference action, and hopefully playoffs, but to attract the best recruits available. Come to Eastern, and you’re going to play against the best with the best.

Hopefully everyone can learn from this season, especially one critical point: Never rely on others to achieve success.

Particularly selection committees.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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