April 23, 2008
Come rain or shine, the annual Red-White Spring Football game at Eastern Washington this Saturday (April 26) at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash., will indeed be a game. But there is still work to be done.
Thanks mostly to poor weather, first-year head coach Beau Baldwin has been forced to re-schedule practices and scrimmages four times already during the 15-day spring practice session for the Eagles. But at 2 p.m. Saturday, the "Red" squad consisting of the Eagle offense will take on the "White" team consisting of the team's defense.
A special scoring system will be utilized to enable to the defense to score points for turnovers, three-and-outs and other big plays. The game will include 12-minute quarters with the clock stopped and started like a normal game.
But even though he expects his troops to enjoy the game-like competition, improvement will be the focal point Saturday.
"More than anything, we want to keep improving," said Baldwin, whose team will practice three times next week to take full advantage of the 15 practices the NCAA allows in a 29-day span. "We've moved practices around and the weather has been bad, but it hasn't slowed us down. There shouldn't be any excuse for not being productive in the spring. We've been able to do what we want for the first 10 practices and we just want to keep striving to get better."
There is no charge to attend and the game is followed by the Orland Killin Dinner-Dance-Auction that begins at 4:30 p.m. at EWU. Limited tickets are still available for $75 each by calling 509-359-2463.
Most importantly, Baldwin's team will step foot on Woodward Field for the first time this spring after having to limit scrimmages thus far to the EWU Sports and Recreation practice fields. The two scrimmages the teams have had thus far have been productive on both sides of the ball, but the Eagle coaching staff has yet to practice play-calling from the Woodward Field coaches booth. Game-like communications among coaches and between coaches and players have been stressed recently by Baldwin.
"We haven't had the coaches on the headsets in the press box yet," he explained. "We need to create a game-like atmosphere with a setup just like it will be in a game. That's what we are trying to create this weekend, and that becomes more fun for the players as well."
In two spring scrimmages thus far, the offense has compiled 541 yards on 112 plays. That average of 4.8 yards per play would increase to 5.4 if the 70 yards lost to 14 quick-whistle sacks were eliminated. The large number sacks is partially contributed to Eastern's young offensive line going against a veteran group of defensive linemen.
"When you see both talent and experience on the defensive line, as a head coach you get excited," said Baldwin. "A great defense starts with your defensive line, and they can make jobs for the linebackers and defensive backs that much easier. I'm excited about that crew -- they have great players and are playing great.
"I'm also excited about the group of offensive linemen we have, but like I've said before, it's just going to take some time," he continued. "In my opinion, our offensive line is going to improve more than any other position between now and the start of the season, and even throughout the season. That's the nature of that position."
Quarterback Matt Nichols, who was last year's Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP, has completed 24-of-40 passes for 306 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the top spring scrimmages. His backup, Alex Smart, is 11-of-20 for 164 yards and a pair of scores.
Returning All-America wide receiver Aaron Boyce has been the team's leading receiver with eight catches for 161 yards. Three players have shared most of the carries at running back, led by the 47 yards of senior Toke Kefu.
Besides the defensive line, Baldwin has been impressed by several other players on defense. In particular, he's seen improvement and talent out of several younger players getting their first chance to play as starters or top backups.
"Guys are flying around, we're tackling well and we're competing well," he added. "We are seeing some younger players stepping up and making some plays. The same has happened on the offensive side."
Remaining 2008 Spring Practice Schedule:
(begin at 3:20 p.m.; Media Interviews at 3 p.m.)
Thursday, April 24
Tuesday, April 29
Wednesday, April 30
Thursday, May 1
2008 Spring Scrimmages:
(times/location tentative and subject to change)
Saturday, April 26 - Red-White Game - 2 p.m. (Woodward Field)