EWU jumps to No. 4 in FCS Poll
Posted on October 14, 2013 at 7:55 PM
Facing the team that knocked them out of the top spot in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision rankings a year ago, the fourth-ranked Eagles host Southern Utah Saturday (Oct. 19) in a Big Sky Conference game. Kickoff at Roos Field in Eastern’s 87th Homecoming game is 5:05 p.m. Pacific time.
Eastern is currently tied atop the Big Sky standings at 2-0 with Montana State and Cal Poly, and EWU is 4-2 overall. The Thunderbirds are 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the conference and are fully capable of upsetting EWU like they did a year ago in Cedar City, Utah.
“It’s going to be a slugfest – it is,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “We are going to get their best punch. We were a pretty good team last year finishing in the top four in the country, but along the way Southern Utah beat us. We know how good they are and what a great job coach Ed Lamb and his staff do there.”
In last year’s game, senior quarterback Brad Sorenson passed for 392 yards and SUU kicked a field goal with three seconds left to pull off the upset over No. 1 ranked EWU. Eastern had entered the game 6-1 and 5-0 in the Big Sky, and SUU entered just 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the league.
In fact, Eastern sophomore quarterback and Walter Payton Award candidate Vernon Adams has had an incredible start to his career and is now 12-3 as a starter. But one of those three losses came against Southern Utah, as well as games earlier this year versus Toledo and Sam Houston State.
Southern Utah is coming off a 17-7 thumping of Portland State in which SUU won the turnover battle 5-1. The Thunderbirds lost at Washington State (48-10) and UC Davis (21-3), but beat NCAA Football Bowl Division member South Alabama (22-21) to open the year.
“I think solid is the best word I can use to describe them,” said Baldwin of the Thunderbirds. “They are very workmanlike and they play together as a team so well. They do what they do really well, and they all know their assignments. And they are very strong – that is something they hang their hat on. We saw their strength and their physicality last week against Portland State when they held the top offense in the Big Sky to seven points. Their mindset is that they are going to be tougher than their opponent, and it shows up because they continually win the turnover battle and ultimately games.”
Eastern is coming off a 35-14 road victory at North Dakota that was closer than the final score indicated. Eastern finished with only two more yards than UND, but used a 4-0 advantage in turnovers to register the 21-point victory. At one point in the third quarter, North Dakota was driving for a game-tying score when Eastern Buck Buchanan Award candidate Ronnie Hamlin intercepted a pass and returned it 77 yards for a momentum-shifting score.
Baldwin hopes that close encounter, plus a difficult preseason schedule, will continue to help the Eagles as EWU moves forward in its conference schedule.
“You never know what kind of ballgame you are going to get in,” said Baldwin, whose team is no stranger to upsets after opening the season with a 49-46 victory over 25th-ranked Pac-12 Conference member Oregon State. “You can get into shootout like Oregon State or you can get into a first-half grind like North Dakota. You just have to find a way to stay together, make enough plays and make sure guys pick each other up.”
With losses last week by No. 3 Towson and No. 4 Northern Iowa, the Eagles moved up two spots in The Sports Network FCS top-25 poll. The Eagles are seeking a seventh league title, with previous titles in 1992, 1997, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2012.
After this week’s game, the Eagles face 5-1 and 10th-ranked Montana before taking on Idaho State, fourth-ranked MSU and Cal Poly in November. Eastern’s resume this season has included a 49-46 victory at Pac-12 Conference member Oregon State, and narrow road losses to Toledo (33-21) and Sam Houston State (49-34).