After EWU knots score 7-7, Pac 10 Golden Bears perform as advertised as Eagles now set sights on start of Big Sky Conference play
Eastern Washington scored on an 83-yard drive in the first quarter, but the California Bears performed as advertised after that to score 52 unanswered points and record a 59-7 victory over Eastern Washington Saturday (Sept. 12) at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif.
In a match-up between the Big Sky Conference and the Pacific 10 Conference, Eastern entered the game ranked 18th in the Sports Network FCS poll. Cal, meanwhile, was ranked 10th in the Associated Press poll in the NCAA Football Bowl Division and represented the second-highest ranked team EWU has ever played (West Virginia was sixth when they beat EWU 52-3 in 2006).
Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best rushed for 144 yards on 17 carries and scored twice for the Golden Bears, who are now 2-0. The Eagles, now 1-1, were out-gained 392-14 on the ground. In all, California had 507 yards of offense to EWU's 235.
"I felt going into the game that they were the most complete team I had ever seen on film," said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. "They were big up front, they are physical and they are fast on defense. In the games we broke down (on film) they had only given up nine plays of 20 or more yards. They do everything right, and on top of that they have great athletes with skill and speed everywhere. This was the most complete team I have seen as far as being well-coached and disciplined -- from offense to defense to special teams. They have all the tools."
Senior quarterback Matt Nichols led the Eagles with a 23-of-31 passing performance for 195 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles host Northern Colorado next Saturday (Sept. 19) in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
California struck first with a touchdown just four minutes into the game, but the Eagles responded with an 11-play, 83-yard drive that was engineered by Nichols. He completed 7-of-8 passes for 79 yards on the drive, and also had a rush for nine yards. One of his completions was a 36-yarder to Aaron Boyce, then Nichols capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to fullback Grant Williams.
"We thought maybe we could get some situations where we could hit some things underneath, and when we got them in the right formation, hit them over the top," explained Baldwin. "We got one of those (big plays), and it would have been nice if we had hit a couple more. They don't just give that up -- they are going to make plays.
"We were hoping we could hit them somewhere early," Baldwin added. "That is the only way you have chance in these types of games -- to get off to a fast start."
Cal scored 17 points in the second quarter, 14 in the third and 21 in the fourth. Although Eastern had just one turnover in the game, it was a costly fumble on a third-and-one play in the second quarter that led to a field goal and helped open the floodgates for Cal.
"The fumble was huge -- I take the blame for that," said Baldwin. "We were trying to take a shot at something and it wasn't there as quickly as we thought. I wanted the team to know we weren't coming here to punt the football and take a paycheck. We were here to lay it on the line. We were going to play for 60 minutes."
Senior Tony Davis had eight catches for 71 yards, and senior tight end Nate Overbay added seven grabs for 62 yards. Darriell Beaumonte led the Eagles with nine rushes for 21 yards.
Last week, a few hours after Eastern scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to surge past Western Oregon 35-14, the Golden Bears topped that with a 52-13 thrashing of Maryland. A week earlier, Cal and Best were featured in Sports Illustrated as a team that could challenge power USC for the Pac 10 title.
Most Eastern players were on the team last year when the Eagles nearly upset Colorado before falling 31-24. That came a week after losing to 12th-ranked Texas Tech 49-24. Two years ago, Eastern lost to Brigham Young (42-7), and in 2006 when Eastern's senior class were freshmen, Eastern lost to Oregon State (56-17) and West Virginia (52-3).
"Almost all the FCS teams do this now (play an FBS team)," said Baldwin. "The one thing it does for us is that we played one of the better football teams. We played a team that I think has a great chance to win the Pac-10, and maybe that gives us that much more. I feel we played a fairly clean game. You are worried that with the crowd noise you will have five turnovers, but we had the one fumble where their player made the play. It wasn't an unforced error. We didn't have fumbled snaps or anything. In a game like this you have to create some turnovers to have a chance."
In the process of Saturday's loss, Nichols broke the school's career completions record to go along with the attempts record he broke last season. He is now 741-of-1,211 (61 percent) for 9,267 and 67 touchdowns in his 37-game career.
"His first start was at West Virginia, so he isn't rattled by much," said Baldwin. "He has played a lot of football and has started a lot of games. Having him in there makes a huge difference. He isn't afraid and he isn't intimated by the surroundings. He just has to make his reads that much quicker."
Quotes from EWU Quarterback Matt Nichols
On what it was like to play against Cal:
"I've played six or seven games against programs like this, so I kind of knew what to expect as far as the speed of the game and everything. Any time you have four or five 6-foot-3 linebackers who are all faster than you, it is pretty difficult to consistently score. I think we had a good game plan. I don't think they see a lot of five-wide sets. I think we had a little advantage in the first quarter until they figured out what our plan of attack was. Obviously, they've got some of those playmakers like Best and a few on defense that make that difference. A lot of people know that the game was not a big blowout like the score showed at the end. We wanted to come out and give them a scare in the first half and show them that we were here to play. I think that if one or two plays had gone our way and if we had gone into halftime with a little bit closer score it would have been nice. In games like these you have to have big plays go your way and that didn't happen for us today."
On how Cal ranks against the other top programs he has
"Other teams might have had more of an ability to score faster against us. Texas Tech's offense was pretty stellar. It terms of defenses I've faced, Cal was definitely the biggest and the fastest. They were running a lot of different coverage schemes against us."
On how they prepared for Cal:
"We watched six games of Cal's from last year and had an idea of what they were going to do. We were wary of guys like Thompson and some of the other playmakers. We actually tried to pick on Thompson a little bit because corners of that caliber can get a little jumpy and allow you to make a play. He is definitely the best corner I have ever seen."
On Cal's gamesmanship:
"It was great competition. I think they knew what we were up against. Those guys were all good sports for the entire game. They kept telling us good job and other things like that."