CHENEY -- What was good for the Eastern Washington University offense was bad for the defense. And vice versa.
The Eagle offense rolled up 364 yards but had three turnovers as EWU ended spring practice No. 5 with a 55-play scrimmage Saturday (April 10).
Junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, a transfer from Southern Methodist University, completed 6-of-8 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown in his Eagle debut. In all, the offense also had 194 yards on the ground and 170 through the air. But Eagle running backs fumbled three times -- losing one that was recovered by Bobby Gentry -- and the defense recorded interceptions by linebackers Paul Ena and J.C. Agen.
“There was some good and there was some bad like any scrimmage,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “I know we turned the ball over way too much on offense, and a couple that weren’t turnovers we put it on the ground. That has to change -- we have to improve our ball leverage and taking care of the football. We were up near the top in the nation in turnover margin last season and we want to keep that going. On defense we gave away a few too many big plays and we need them to make our offense grind a little more when they have to drive down the field. Those are the things we’ll want to address heading into next week.”
A year ago, Eastern finished sixth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in turnover margin, averaging 1.25 less turnovers per game than its opponents. Forcing three turnovers Saturday was good news for the defense, but not the 85-yard run by Darriell Beaumonte on the scrimmage’s first play. In all, the defense allowed three rushes of at least 20 yards -- six of at least 10 -- and allowed a 29-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to Nicholas Edwards to cap a six-play, 65-yard drive.
“I was happy in some respects and we had some good negative plays created by the defense,” said Baldwin. “But I was unhappy because I thought there were too many big runs. A lot of times during game weeks, we have the goal to not allow a run of over 15 or 20 yards in the entire game. At times it was a little too easy for our running backs to break free.”
Eastern was productive on the ground despite the fact 1,000-yard and All-America running back Taiwan Jones sat out the scrimmage. But the fumbles were disturbing to Baldwin, who threatened after the third fumble that the players were going to have to carry the ball to classes next week.
“The good thing is that we probably won’t have to say it again and we might see them walking around on Monday with a football in their hands,” Baldwin laughed after the scrimmage. “We don’t want to make them do it, but we want them to take it upon themselves after they heard me yelling at them. Whether they do or don’t, they better not be fumbling on Tuesday.”
“I love the fact they created turnovers,” Baldwin added of the defense. “I don’t want our offense to give them up, but I love the fact our defense is creating them.”
Besides his 29-yard TD pass, Mitchell was also the quarterback when Eastern scored touchdowns in a red zone drill early in the scrimmage when Chase King scored on a 20-yard run and Beaumonte scored from 1-yard out. Beaumonte finished with 98 yards rushing on just six carries, and King had 65 on four carries.
There were no other scores by the offense other than three field goals by returning kicker Michael Jarrett, with a long of 38. Eastern’s other five quarterbacks were a combined 11-of-22 for 95 yards and a pair of interceptions, with Brandon Kaufman leading all receivers with four catches for 39 yards.
“He played really well considering this was only practice five,” Baldwin said of Mitchell, who passed for 4,590 yards and 36 touchdowns at SMU where he started all 19 of the games he played. “I’m sure he’ll be the first one to tell you we’ll go back and watch video and find something on every play to improve on. But he’s operating really well and taken it upon himself away from practice time to understand terminology and the system. He’s done a good job to put himself in this position to have a good feel for the inner-workings of the offense.”
Baldwin, however, wouldn’t go so far as to call him the starter in the six-player battle for the quarterback position left vacated by two-time Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year Matt Nichols.
“He has some great skills and tools, but we want everybody to battle through the whole spring,” Baldwin said. “But we’ll probably get it down to three, maybe four, players getting the majority of the reps in next week’s practice.”