CHENEY -- If it would have been a real game, fans would have gone away entertained.
Both the offense and defense had their moments as Eastern Washington University ran 71 plays in the school’s first football scrimmage of preseason camp on Wednesday.
The offense piled up 401 yards and scored five touchdowns, but the defense held the offense scoreless in two possessions during a red zone drill. Bo Levi Mitchell, a transfer from Southern Methodist who won the starting quarterback job in the spring, was an impressive 10-of-16 for 151 yards and accounted for two of the scores.
“It felt like at different times the offense had momentum, then the defense would gain the momentum back for certain periods and then the offense would get it back again,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “I thought it was a good back-and-forth battle in a scrimmage.”
Eastern passed for 292 yards and rushed for 109 yards as it continued preparations for the school’s season opener at Nevada on September 2nd. Mitchell capped a seven-play, 70-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to open the scrimmage, then later ended a five-play, 70-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown strike to Greg Herd.
In a goal line drill, Darriell Beaumonte scored on a 9-yard run and Matt Martin caught an 8-yard pass from Nick Gauthier. The other score came late in the scrimmage on a 70-yard catch and run by Alante Wright from Scott Burgett.
“We’ve been working on a lot of those situations in practice, but we wanted to hit them with live bullets too,” said Baldwin. “That was everything from two-minute drill to goal line to red zone to long field. Our four-minute drill is another really good teaching time when the defense is trying to get the offense off the field and the offense is trying to finish the game.”
True freshman Mario Brown was the leading rusher with 42 yards on 13 carries, and All-America running back Taiwan Jones had a 20-yard run on his only rush of the game. Jones also caught a 5-yard pass. Three different players had three receptions each as 12 different players caught passes.
“I think they’ve made some good strides,” Baldwin said of the offense. “At different times in practice it’s been tough, but I give a lot of credit to the defense when it is tough. They are making it harder on the offense and that is going to make us that much better. I thought today the offense got into a little bit of a rhythm in a couple of drills and did some good things. I’m pleased, but we are nowhere near where we want to be when the season begins.”
Linebacker Tyler Washburn led the defense with 11 tackles, including a sack he shared with Will Katoa. Anthony Larry also had a sack, and linebackers Bobby Gentry and Grant Williams chipped in six tackles each. Two of the four tackles by All-American linebacker J.C. Sherritt came during a goal-line stand during the red zone drill.
“They were really stout,” said Baldwin of the defense. “I was really impressed with what they did to the offense in the red zone. And at other times they got out of drives in four-minute drill situations.”
Although the secondary broke-up five passes, a rash of injuries at the safety positions resulted in several defenders shifting positions to help fill the void. Baldwin, who already had moved Chandler Gayton from cornerback to safety when projected free safety starter Erich Armstrong quit the day before practices officially began, isn’t hitting the panic button quite yet.
“If we can get a few of those guys healthy then we have a chance to be very solid and deep at that position,” he said. “But if we don’t, then there are definitely going to be a couple of players who move into that position. There is no way we can survive with two, three or even four safeties -- we have to get to five or six safeties in our practices.”
Eastern will also scrimmage next week, and that is expected to take place on the new red turf as workers put the finishing touches on the project that began in mid-June.
“The next gear is to give the starters a little bit more of the reps, and put in some things offensively and defensively that we will use against Nevada,” explained Baldwin. “We’ll start working toward that game plan, and maybe even get a few scout team looks before we even get into game week.”