Eastern running back joins strong safety Matt Johnson as Big Sky Conference Players of the Week as Eastern begins preparations for showdown in Bozeman with No. 17 MSU
Not surprisingly, Taiwan Jones has earned Big Sky Conference and national accolades for his career-high 221-yard rushing performance in Eastern's 36-27 victory over Montana last Saturday (Sept. 18) in the inaugural game on EWU's new red synthetic Sprinturf surface at Roos Field (formerly Woodward Field).
The junior running back from Antioch, Calif., was honored nationally as one of five College Sporting News All-Stars for the week, and was also the FCS performer of the week at running back by College Football Performance Awards. In addition, the Walter Payton Award candidate earned Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors for the third time in his career and second time this season, having also won the award following EWU's game at Nevada on Sept. 2.
In addition, junior strong safety Matt Johnson (Tumwater, Wash., HS '07) had a big game against Montana with eight tackles and a pair of interceptions to earn Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors for the second time in his career. His second interception versus Montana came with 7:31 left in the game after Montana had driven to Eastern's 27-yard line while trailing by three.
Eastern, 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big Sky, moved up nine spots and is ranked ninth in The Sports Network/Fathead.com top 25 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision poll. It is Eastern's highest ranking since finishing the 2007 season ranked eighth.
This week, the Eagles continue Big Sky Conference play at Montana State in a showdown that begins at 12:05 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday (Sept. 25). The Bobcats, 2-1 overall and 0-0 in the league, are ranked 17th nationally this week while Montana slipped from sixth to 14th after falling to the Eagles. The Grizzlies were No. 1 two weeks ago.
Jones was selected by the coaching staff as EWU's offensive player of the week, and Johnson and junior defensive tackle Renard Williams (Port Orchard, Wash. - South Kitsap HS '07) shared the honor on defense. Junior Darriell Beaumonte (Lakewood, Wash. - Clover Park HS '07) was special teams player of the week, Andre Williams (Richmond, Calif) was offensive scout team player of the week and John Goldwire (Lakewood, Wash. - Lakes HS '10) earned the same honor on defense.
More on Jones . . .
The total of 305 all-purpose yards Taiwan Jones had against the Grizzlies (second-most in his career behind the 322 against Nevada) was his ninth career performance of at least 200 yards. His 27 carries were also a career high by nine as Eastern finished with 503 yards of total offense.
The previous career best for Jones was 190 against Sacramento State on Sept. 26, 2009. A candidate for the Walter Payton Award given to the top player in FCS, Jones scored on a 72-yard run in the second quarter and also had a 45-yard pass reception.
Perhaps the biggest run of the day for Jones was a 13-yard run during Eastern's final scoring drive, including a brilliant spin move that got him the extra yards needed for an important first down. It was on a third-and-10 play, and was just Eastern's second third down conversion of the day in 14 attempts -- including a string of nine-straight misses to start the game. Jones accounted for 35 of the 56 yards on that 12-play drive.
"He's huge," praised Baldwin. "He comes up big in big games -- that's the type of player he is. At the same time, he's an amazing teammate. He cares about his teammates and his team first more than anything else. He never ceases to amaze me. You put him in that position and he's one of those guys who has talent but he also has a huge heart. He's not afraid of any situation."
With an average of 287.3 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returns) per game, the junior running back is the early leader in that category in NCAA Championship Subdivision statistics. He also ranks fourth in rushing (151.7 per game) and 13th in scoring (10.0 per game with five total touchdowns).
Jones, who averaged an impressive 7.5 yards per carry as a sophomore, was named to the initial 2010 Walter Payton Award Watch List this past summer by The Sports Network. And so far, he's lived up to that billing with a current average of 8.6 yards per rush.
En route to earning Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors, Jones had a career-high 322 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving and returns) in Eastern's season-opening 49-24 loss at Nevada on Sept. 2. His performance included an 82-yard touchdown reception and a non-scoring 74-yard run. Jones rushed 12 times for 145 yards, had another 92 yards on two receptions and 85 yards on four kickoff returns. His previous career high was 279 yards against Sacramento State on Sept. 26, 2009.
He added 235 yards and three touchdowns against Central Washington on Sept. 11. He finished the game with 14 rushes for 89 yards and two touchdowns, caught four passes for 63 yards (including a 46-yard score) and had 83 yards in returns.
He now has eight plays in his career of 71 yards or more, 13 of at least 50 and 27 of at least 32 yards. Five have been for at least 80 yards, including a school-record 96-yard touchdown run versus Idaho State in 2009. Nine times in his career he has eclipsed the 200-yard mark in all-purpose yards and has eight rushing performances of at least 100 yards.
Jones also received honorable mention nationally by College Football Performance Awards and was the team's offensive player of the week after the Nevada game.
"It's almost to a point where I'm not surprised, but he made a few more plays against Nevada that make you marvel at how he can make plays," praised Baldwin following the Nevada game. "Even when things aren't there he is able to make them. He has a toughness and grit to him -- he bangs it up in there so he's not just a fast guy. He's a special football player and obviously the big-play guy in our offense."
A cornerback as a freshman at Eastern in 2008, Jones scored on an 87-yard run on his first carry as an Eagle running back in 2009. Jones started and ended his season with a 100-yard game, finishing with a total of six for the season to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He was a third team selection on The Sports Network's FCS All-America Football Team, and was a third team choice as an all-purpose back on the Associated Press All-America squad.
Jones, who is from Antioch, Calif., and graduated from Deer Valley High School in 2007, finished with 1,213 rushing yards in 2009 to rank as the sixth-most in school history. He ranked in the top 10 in FCS in rushing (ninth, 101.1 per game), scoring (sixth, 9.50 per game) and all-purpose yards per game (second, 195.4). His 2,345 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returns) were the second-most in school history, and his 19 touchdowns and 114 total points both rank fourth.
His talent has been augmented by the addition of a synthetic turf surface at Roos Field. Jones averaged 6.1 yards per carry at home on the grass surface of Woodward Field, but that was boosted to 8.2 in EWU's other eight games on fields that featured seven artificial surfaces as well as one grass field at Sacramento State with excellent footing.
Jones has a career average of 157.4 all-purpose yards per game to currently rank as the school record, and his 990 kickoff return yards is seventh. His total all-purpose yardage of 3,462 is just 20 yards away from Eastern's top 10 list, and by the end of the season he should be on Eastern's all-time lists for rushing yards (currently with 1,668), scoring (144) and touchdowns (25).
The Walter Payton Award is given annually to the top offensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Big Sky Conference players have captured the honor six times, most recently by Eastern Washington quarterback Erik Meyer in 2005. Eastern quarterback Matt Nichols finished fourth in the voting as a senior in 2009.
There are 20 players on the current Watch List, including five from the Big Sky Conference. Besides Jones, the list also includes Montana running back Chase Reynolds, Grizzly quarterback Andrew Selle, Northern Arizona quarterback Michael Herrick and Weber State quarterback Cameron Higgins.
This year's award is being sponsored by Fathead.com. The winner will be announced on the eve of the Division I National Championship game in Frisco, Texas.
More on Matt Johnson . . .
Matt Johnson's two interceptions against Montana gives him 12 picks in his career to rank fourth in school history, and he is now just six interceptions away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. The only other players ahead of him are former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93). Johnson also already has 207 tackles to rank 24th all-time at Eastern.
But his twin brother Zach Johnson also had a big game with 10 total tackles and a forced fumble on Montana's final kickoff return of the game. The Johnson twins are both 2007 graduates of Tumwater, Wash., High School, but a blood clot in Zach's leg sidelined him for the entire 2009 season.