By JOHN McCALLUM
Managing Editor 

Eastern's football season was one of ups and downs

Crunch Time

 

Last updated 11/27/2019 at 12:30pm



Is it too early to do an autopsy on Eastern Washington University’s football season?

If it is, tough, here’s one anyway.

Like many, I chugged down the hype of “Advancing the Standard,” this year’s motto presented by Eagles athletics director Lynn Hickey and head coach Aaron Best at the West Plains Chamber of Commerce’s annual August breakfast on the red turf at Roos Field. And after advancing to the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game earlier in January, it all sounded pretty good — the idea of advancing that championship standard to the next level, which could only mean a national championship. Right?

We even got national love, receiving a No. 4 preseason ranking from STATS. It was a nice homage to a program that has been steadily building in excellence almost every year this century.

But it wasn’t reality. The reality we all forgot was that the Big Sky co-championship team that lost in the title game to perennial powerhouse North Dakota State graduated 25 seniors, many in skilled positions.

That team also lost key coaches, as often happens to successful programs. So we should have kept that in mind when we were flipping head over heels about advancing the standard.

Reading some of the recent social media postings regarding the end of a disappointing — albeit winning — season, I think we conveniently bathed ourselves in past glory and ignored reality.

Quite often this season, the Eagles showed what this team has to offer in the way of excellence — and that happened mostly on offense. Eastern has the nation’s No. 1 ranked total offense in the FCS. We’re No. 4 in scoring, No. 4 in first downs offense, No.5 in passing offense, 15th in red zone scoring and 21st in rushing (not bad, could be better) among the myriad of stats available.


Interestingly, the Eagles offense was 32nd when it came to converting on third downs with a .424 percentage. Why that’s interesting is it means that when drives began to stall, the offense only managed to keep the ball moving 40 percent of the time – with the other 60 percent meaning punting the ball to the opposition and having our defense take the field.

And Eastern’s defense struggled mightily this year, ranked 104th overall out of 124 teams. We were 73rd in opponents converting on third down and 81st on fourth down — meaning the Eagles couldn’t find a way to get off the field and get the ball back to the nation’s No. 1 offense.


There are other stats too that tell tales of struggle in protecting leads or keeping close games from getting out of hand, such as what happened at Sacramento State and again in Missoula against Montana. Both could have been wins that would have had Eastern looking at positioning in the playoffs during last Sunday’s selection show, instead of hoping against hope to maybe sneak into the field of 24.

I’m pretty sure Best and his coaches are pouring over all of these numbers right now in their own post-mortem. And there will be much to look at and work on in the off season.

And maybe for us fans, that off season work could include learning to center oneself in reality rather than unfettered optimism and wanton overconfidence. Too often this season on social media sites I saw this manifested in the disgruntled lashing out at coaches and players for their failures — forgetting that, for one, it’s just a game, and two, well, it’s just a game.

As good as Eastern’s program has become, this season should serve to remind us that we aren’t North Dakota State quite yet. We’ve still got work to do under a young coaching regime with new players.

So relax. There’s lots of time.

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

 

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