Struggling Eagles host North Dakota in Big Sky Conference opener

EWU looks for its first win over an FCS opponent in the 2019 season

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Struggling Eagles host North Dakota in Big Sky Conference opener

The EWU sideline looks on as Idaho marches down the field during EWU's 35-27 loss in Moscow on Sept. 21.

The EWU sideline looks on as Idaho marches down the field during EWU's 35-27 loss in Moscow on Sept. 21.

Drew Lawson for The Easterner

The EWU sideline looks on as Idaho marches down the field during EWU's 35-27 loss in Moscow on Sept. 21.

Drew Lawson for The Easterner

Drew Lawson for The Easterner

The EWU sideline looks on as Idaho marches down the field during EWU's 35-27 loss in Moscow on Sept. 21.

By Drew Lawson, Sports Editor

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After a four-game nonconference schedule in which the only positive result came against Division II Lindenwood, No. 21 EWU (1-3) is hoping a little home cooking can help right the ship on Sept. 28 against No. 25 North Dakota (1-2). 

The Eagles return to Roos Field after a disappointing two-week stretch that included a fourth-quarter meltdown at No. 11 Jacksonville State on Sept. 14 and an upset 35-27 loss at Idaho on Sept. 21. When coupled with the 47-14 season opening loss at Washington, EWU has already lost more games this season than they did in all of 2018. 

Big Sky Conference play now looms for EWU. The eight-game slate is one that EWU will probably have to go unbeaten in to return to the FCS playoffs. First up is the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota, which entered the FCS Coaches Poll Top 25 for the first time this season after their 27-23 victory over Sam Houston State on Sept. 14. UND isn’t ranked in the FCS Stats Top 25. The game counts in the BSC standings for EWU, but doesn’t for UND as the Fighting Hawks are transitioning to the Missouri Valley Conference and are ineligible for the BSC’s automatic bid into the playoffs. 

UND has been forced to use four quarterbacks this year. In the season opener against Drake, senior Nate Ketteringham was injured and replaced by senior Andrew Zimmerman. On Sept. 14, Zimmerman was also injured and replaced by freshman Tommy Schuster. The Fighting Hawks have also used junior Noah Grover at times this season. The rotating door at quarterback is expected to end against EWU, as UND Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Alec Stocker Johnson told The Easterner that Ketteringham has been cleared and is back at the top of the depth chart. 

Elsewhere, UND has been led by senior wide receiver Noah Wanzek, who has 24 receptions for 241 yards and a touchdown through three games. Defensively, senior linebacker Donnell Rodgers has 29 total tackles to pace the Fighting Hawks. UND currently has the FCS’s highest ranked passing defense. The unit is led by junior cornerback Jordan Canady, who has 24 total tackles and an interception.

For EWU to get back on the right track and start BSC play with an important home win, several areas will have to improve. Below are The Easterner’s three keys to an EWU victory over UND. 

Drew Lawson for The Easterner
EWU head coach Aaron Best coaches his players during the Eagles’ 35-27 loss at Idaho on Sept. 21.

Three Keys to Victory

– Get off to a fast start.

EWU came out of the gates poorly against Idaho en route to a 28-0 halftime deficit. Since Ketteringham is returning after a two and a half game absence, he may be facing a bit of rust to start the game. It’s important that EWU get off to a fast start while Ketteringham is shaking off that rust. If the Eagles allow UND to hang around while Ketteringham gets in a rhythm, UND’s chances of an upset drastically increase. On the contrary, if EWU can get off to a quick double-digit lead, UND might have a tough time recovering from the early punch in the mouth. 

– Gain a defensive edge. 

The EWU defense has had a rough start to the 2019 season after a terrific 2018 performance. Through four games, EWU has given up an average of 40.5 points per game, a drastic increase from 2018’s 22.7 points per game. Part of the problem has been injuries, as five key defensive contributors have all missed time (senior linebacker Jack Sendelbach, senior defensive end Justiss Warren, junior linebacker Chris Ojoh, junior nose tackle Keith Moore and sophomore cornerback Darreon Moore). However, in 2018, EWU lost six defensive starters throughout the season and didn’t miss a beat.  

The defensive unit has also struggled with complacency. EWU head coach Aaron Best said after the loss to Idaho that there’s a sense of entitlement within the team right now. 

“There has got to be a legitimate motivation of ‘you are competing for your spot,’” Best said. “There’s too many guys at this time that are not competing week in and week out for their opportunity to play on Saturdays.”

If the EWU defense can avoid staying complacent and comfortable and instead begins playing with an edge, they should see that 40.5 points per game average decrease as the season goes along. 

-Play consistently for all four quarters.

The Eagles have yet to play a game where they’ve consistently outperformed their opponent in every quarter. EWU never had much of a chance to beat UW, so that can be ignored. However, against Lindenwood, the Eagles struggled to stop the Lions in the second and third quarter. Against JSU, EWU was outscored 21-0 in the fourth quarter after leading for almost the entire game. EWU outscored Idaho 27-7 in the second half, but the 28-0 hole the Eagles found themselves in at halftime was practically insurmountable. Senior wide receiver Jayson Williams said the team is trying to do too much on the field and needs to slow down.

Drew Lawson for The Easterner
The EWU offense runs a play inside the Idaho 10-yard line. Idaho beat EWU 35-27 on Sept. 21.

 

“At the end of the day it’s a team game,” Williams said. “It starts in practice. We have to take steps forward, because if not, we’re going to be at home watching the playoffs.”

EWU vs UND kicks off at 2:05 p.m. and is being televised locally on SWX. 

 

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