Eastern also leads in team passing category, but rushing offense and rushing defense hardest hit by injury bug
With the good comes the bad for this year’s Eastern Washington University football team.
But Eastern’s passing game, featuring quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, has been better than good, and is leading NCAA Football Championship Subdivision statistics through games of Oct. 29.
The Eagles have a bye this week, but then begin the final stretch run of the season by playing at future Big Sky Conference member Cal Poly on Nov. 12 in a non-league game. Eliminated from contention to defend the NCAA Division I title it won last season, Eastern ends the year Nov. 19 at Idaho State.
Leading by the slimmest of margins, Mitchell is averaging 352.9 yards per game to rank slightly ahead of the 352.0 average of Lehigh’s Chris Lum. As a team, the Eagles lead FCS with an average of 354.9 yards per game, just ahead of Lehigh’s 354.6 average.
But the Eagles don’t fare nearly as well when it comes to rushing offense and defense. Those two areas have been particularly impacted by the team’s rash of injuries this season, not to mention the early departure of two-time All-America running back Taiwan Jones, now with the Oakland Raiders. Jones was on hand last Saturday when the Eagles finished with 440 yards passing, minus 1 rushing and allowed 338 rushing yards in a 43-26 home loss to Portland State on Oct. 29.
A year ago, Eastern averaged 156.1 rushing yards per game and allowed only 139.6 each outing. However, this year the Eagles are averaging only 67.0 offensively to rank 116 out of 120 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision teams, and 205.9 on defense to rank only 106th.
Historically, only three times in recorded school history have Eastern teams averaged less than 100 rushing yards per game – 98.5 in 2008, 92.1 in 1987 and 99.0 in 1994. Defensively, Eastern allowed an all-time high of 206.1 rushing yards per game in 1988.
A total of 12 starters already have suffered injuries that have kept them out of the lineup – including seven players lost for the season. In fact, only one offensive lineman – senior tackle Gabriel Jackson – has started all nine Eastern games, as a total of 10 players have started this season along the offensive line.
Eastern has started 43 different players this season – 23 on offense and 20 on defense – with only five players starting all nine games thus far. A total of 19 players have made starting debuts this season.
With a trio of 400-yard passing performances this season – and three more of at least 300 – Mitchell is on pace to break the school record for both single season and career passing yards per game. His current season average of 352.9 ranks ahead of the current record set in 2005 by Walter Payton Award winner Erik Meyer when he averaged 333.6 yards per game. Mitchell’s career average of 278.0 per outing ranks ahead of the 268.4 average of Matt Nichols (2006-09).
Mitchell is coming off a 440-yard performance against Portland State on Oct. 29, an output that ranks eighth in school history. That gives him 3,176 yards for the year – just the 11th performance by an Eagle of at least 3,000 passing yards in a single season. His yardage ranks eighth in school history, and he is on pace to finish with 3,881, which would rank fifth.
Despite playing just two seasons at Eastern, Mitchell already ranks fourth in school history for career passing yards (6,672), and is also third in touchdown passes (61), fourth in completions (547), fourth in attempts (907) and fourth in passing efficiency rating (138.6). He now has eight 300-yard performances in his 24-game EWU career, including three of the 18 400-yard performances in school history.
In addition, junior Nicholas Edwards is on pace to break Eastern’s school record for receptions in a single season, which is currently owned by Eric Kimble with 87 in 2005. Edwards has 73 catches this season (8.1 per game), and is on pace to finish with 89. His 1,008 total yards and 14 touchdown receptions rank 10th and third, respectively, all-time at EWU. Kimble holds the touchdowns record with 19 in 2004.
Coming off a much-needed bye week, Eastern enters the Cal Poly game 4-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big Sky Conference. Against the Mustangs, Eastern will be trying to keep alive its chances of having a 14th winning season in the last 16 years (1996-2011). In the past 15 years (1997-2011), the Eagles have won 61 percent (108-68) of their games overall and 64 percent (73-41) in Big Sky Conference play. Included are four Big Sky titles and four runner-up finishes, as well as 12 winning seasons, six NCAA Championship Subdivision Playoff berths and the 2010 FCS title.
The Mustangs have some rather impressive history themselves, having participated in the playoffs in 2005 and 2008. They are currently 5-3, and are ranked 26th in both The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top 25 Poll and the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Coaches Poll. Cal Poly enters its game Nov. 5 at UC Davis with a four-game winning streak. One game earlier, Cal Poly knocked off 17th-ranked South Dakota, a team the Eagles lost to 30-17 on Sept. 10.
Other National Leaders for Eastern
Mitchell is also second nationally in total offense (346.1) and 26th in passing efficiency (142.0). Receivers Nicholas Edwards and Greg Herd rank in the top 20 in FCS in both receptions per game and receiving yards. Edwards is sixth in catches (8.1 with a total of 73) and sixth in receiving yards per game (112.0), while Herd is 17th (6.22 with a total of 56) and ninth (98.4) in those two categories, respectively. Edwards also has a FCS-best 14 touchdown receptions, with the next-best mark 11.
In addition, freshman punter Jake Miller does not meet the minimum of 3.6 punts per game this week to qualify, but if he did, he would rank seventh nationally with a 43.4 average per punt. He has 31 attempts and would need 33 to qualify. Kicker Mike Jarrett is eighth in field goals (1.56 with a total of 14) and Edwards is eighth in scoring (9.3 points per game).
Eastern, however, is just 116th out of 120 FCS teams in rushing offense (67.0). Eastern is 23rd overall in total offense (421.9) and 40th in scoring (28.7). Defensively, Eastern is 96th FCS in total defense, allowing an average of 407.4 yards per game. Eastern is 53rd in passing defense (201.6), 106th in rushing defense (205.9) and 82nd in scoring defense (29.7). Eastern is also 28th nationally in sacks (2.56 per game).
With a 8-4 advantage in turnovers the last four games, the Eagles are now 72nd in turnover margin (-0.33 per game) after ranking 17th in FCS last year and sixth in 2009. Through its first five games of the 2011 season, EWU was 109th in turnover margin (-1.4 per game) after ranking a season-low 111th the week before.