April 13, 2007
The no-huddle offense suits sophomore quarterback Matt Nichols just fine.
The second-year Eastern Washington University quarterback completed all seven of his passes for 148 yards as the Eagles wrapped up their first week of spring football practice with a 36-play scrimmage Friday (April 13) at the EWU Sports and Recreation Center practice fields.
Nichols directed the offense to a pair of quick scores in the controlled scrimmage on drives of 75 and 70 yards that took just six total plays to complete. In all, the offense finished with 321 yards and scored three times. Eastern rushed for 153 yards on 22 carries and completed 10-of-14 passes for 168 yards.
"We're running a no-huddle offense which is good for me," said the native of Cottonwood, Calif. "It gives me a lot more freedom and I can change plays as I see them early. I get a lot more time on the line."
Eastern head coach Paul Wulff was overjoyed with the enthusiasm of players on both sides of the ball.
"It was good," he said. "I think our players are excited about what we're doing and are having fun with it. As long as we're having fun, it will all take care of itself."
Nichols was also overjoyed -- with the offensive line.
"Everybody came out ready to play today and the offensive line did a great job," he explained. "There were a couple of times where it took some time for the patterns to develop, but I could just stand back there all day. I worked all winter with the receivers so our routes are a lot better and we're on the same page. Last year we had some mis-communication, but we're getting it down this year."
"The offensive line did okay today," said Wulff. "We're starting to get a little cleaner in terms of our execution. We'll start throwing in more things on defense and our offense will have to adjust to that."
Tony Davis scored the first touchdown on a 54-yard run, then caught a 34-yard scoring pass from Nichols. The other touchdown was scored on the scrimmage's last play on an 8-yard run by A.J. Jimerson in the team's red zone offense session.
A 10-game starter as a freshman a year ago, Nichols is bound and determined to put EWU's 3-8 season in the past. With new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Todd Sturdy taking over a unit that returns eight starters -- including four experienced linemen -- Eastern's offense received a few tweaks but not an overhaul.
"Coach Sturdy is doing a lot of great things, and is actually learning our terminology so we don't have to learn as much," Nichols said.
Senior receiver Shane Eller caught four passes for 72 yards and sophomore Aaron Boyce caught two for 30 yards with a drop. Backup quarterback Alex Smart was 3-of-5 for 20 yards. A.J. Jimerson rushed eight times for 44 yards, including a 24-yard run.
"We are doing a lot of similar things, yet we are changing some things," said Wulff. "Matt is just more experienced, as well as Alex. Alex is playing extremely well too and he deserves a shot to get a lot of opportunities to play. They looked better today -- they have been up-and-down the first couple of days of practice but they were a little sharper today."
Two fumbles, both by sophomore Jesse Hoffman, were the only negatives that came out of the performance by the offense. But Wulff also saw the fumbles as a positive.
"We had a couple of mistakes that were critical and that will really hurt you in a ballgame," he explained. "We had turnovers at the wrong time for the offense, but on the opposite side, the defense created turnovers which is critical."
Defensively, Eastern was led by the five tackles of sophomore defensive back Kevin Hatch out of Freeman High School near Spokane. Senior linebacker Jared Kuhl had three. Ira Jarmon forced one of the fumbles on a fourth-and-short play during the red zone session.
"There were a lot of good things for just our fourth day," said Wulff. "For the most part it was fairly clean and there weren't a lot of dumb penalties and those sorts of things. I was happy from that standpoint."
The Eagles return 46 letter winners and 13 starters from last year's 3-8 squad. Spring practice culminates with the annual Red-White Game on May 5 at 2 p.m. at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Eastern has 12 practices left during the remaining three weeks of practices. Eastern will practice Mondays (except April 30), Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3:20 p.m. Besides the Red-White game, public scrimmages will take place on Friday, April 20 (3:50 p.m.) and Saturday, April 28 (11 a.m.).
"Probably getting the soreness out," joked Wulff of the most important thing the Eagles got out of their first week of practice "It's nice to get back into the swing of things and know what it feels like to put the pads on. The players put what they are hearing mentally into a physical response. You have all those things that take time and repetition to get yourself to the level you need to be."
Eastern opens its 2007 season at home on Aug. 31 against Montana-Western.
"We need to get people to stop talking about our 3-8 season last year," said Nichols, who completed 55 percent of his passes a year ago for 1,749 yards, but had 17 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. "We felt like we were a lot better than we showed last year. We made a few mental mistakes in key situations last year that cost us a couple of close games. I think we're going to come together this year, especially having a young team with a year of experience under our belts."
"Hopefully we can play as a team," he added. "When things went bad we kind of looked down on each other. We need to switch things around this year. We need to forget about it and play a lot better as a team."