April 20, 2007
The 498 yards the Eastern Washington University offensive units rolled up didn't tell the whole story.
Eastern's defense -- particularly the team's starting unit -- show improvement as the Eagles concluded their second week of spring practice with a 74-play scrimmage Friday (April 20) at the EWU Sports and Recreation Center practice fields.
The defense gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass and run on the first play, but then held the starting offense out of the endzone the rest of the scrimmage.
"The intensity was good," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "If you were a fan watching from the outside you saw some good, hard, crisp hitting. We had players flying around and playing good football. Obviously, after eight practices we are not going to be real sharp in a lot of areas, but we're improving. We certainly have gotten better as a football team, and we need these last two weeks of practice to be even better."
Eastern's trio of quarterbacks combined to complete 28-of-42 passes for 358 yards, and the Eagles rushed for another 140. The team's average of 6.7 yards per play -- 5.7 excluding the 80-yard score -- was a great improvement for the defense from a week earlier when it allowed the offense 321 yards on just 36 plays -- 8.9 per play. The defense broke-up five passes and had a trio of quick-whistle sacks.
"Defensively, I thought we played better," praised Wulff. "That's encouraging. It looked like our tackling was reasonably improved. Other than the first play of the scrimmage, there weren't any big plays given up by our No. 1 defense."
Starting quarterback Matt Nichols, who was 7-of-7 last week for 148 yards, was 13-of-24 for 209 yards this time around. On Friday he completed his first seven passes for 135 yards, including a short pass to Tony Davis, who turned it into an 80-yard score on the scrimmage's first play.
But Nichols completed just six of his last 18 passes, including a string of six-straight incompletions. Backup Alex Smart directed the No. 2 offense and was 12-of-13 for 112 yards and two touchdown passes. Redshirt freshman Jason Harris was 3-of-5 as he led the No. 2 offense on a scoring drive that was capped by an 8-yard run by Jeffrey Solomon.
"We just didn't get into a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball," said Wulff of the starting offense. "The No. 2 offense got into some rhythm but the No. 1 offense didn't. That's a tribute to the defense. Until we look at the tape of the game, it could have been lack of execution on offense or good play by our defense, or a combination of both."
Smart drove his squad 80 yards in 11 plays for a score in his first opportunity with the ball, capped by a 20-yard scoring toss to Shane Eller. Later, in a red zone offense series of plays, he had a 4-yard touchdown pass to Nicholas Ramos.
Near the end of the scrimmage, Smart drove the offense in seven plays from its own 1-yard line to the defense's 1-yard line. A 19-yard first down pass to Ramos to end the drive was as good as a touchdown to Wulff, whose offensive squads no turnovers in 14 possessions.
"Those are good numbers," he said of the performances by Smart and Harris. "Getting completions, moving the chains and not throwing interceptions is what we have to do. We didn't turn the ball over from a fumble standpoint, so that is an important thing for the defense. That was an improvement from last week's scrimmage and practices, so that's encouraging."
Solomon led all receivers with eight catches for 65 yards. Davis finished with six catches for 127 yards and Eller also had six grabs for 61 yards. Jesse Hoffman led the running backs with 77 yards on nine carries, including rushes of 35, 19 and 14 yards.
"There are some playmakers on this team," said Wulff, whose team has implemented some new offensive schemes with the addition of new offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy. "We're still figuring out what players belong in the particular spots. We're still in the process of getting the correct personnel into positions and getting a feel for those things. We still have a lot of room for improvement on offense."
Kevin Hatch from nearby Freeman, Wash., led the defense with seven tackles and a pair of passes broken up. Linebackers Shane Cooley and Ryan Buenaflor also had seven tackles each, and defensive backs Lonnie Hosley and Kyle Wilkins had six stops apiece.
Eastern has seven practices left during the remaining two weeks of practices. Eastern will practice Mondays (except April 30), Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3:20 p.m. Besides the Red-White game at 2 p.m. on May 5 at Woodward Field, Eastern will also scrimmage on Saturday, April 28 (11 a.m.).
"These last two weeks are very, very important for this team," Wulff added. "We are adding some new things and we have to make big strides. There is still enough youth on this team and there is a lot of room for improvement. We have to get better."
Eastern opens its 2007 season at home on Aug. 31 against Montana-Western.