Friday, September 11, 2009

Eastern Washington Preview

What do we know about EWU from a football standpoint? Not much. Not a lot a chances to watch them on TV. Two years ago, their coach was Paul Wulff, now the coach at Wazzu. Shortly after Wulff left, EWU got put on probation for indiscretions during Wulff's tenure. Sound familiar Cal fans?


We know they have a four year starter at QB in Matt Nichols (6'3" 220) who is poised to break all kinds of EWU passing records this year. He had a real nice season his sophomore year in 2007 (Wulff's last year), as the Big Sky Offensive MVP (apparently a bit of a tradition at EWU - he was the fifth in 7 years), with a 156 rating, 34 TDs and 9 INTs. He slipped a big his junior year (current head coach's first year).

We know they have a bona fide blazer at RB, Taiwan Jones. He raced Best in HS in the 100, posting a 10.56 and a claimed 4.22 40. After playing corner last season, they moved him to tailback this season. He took his first carry 87 yards to the house last weekend against Western Oregon and finished with 123 yards on 12 carries.

We know they have a four year starter at WR in Aaron Boyce (6'3" 210) who is about to break a bunch of EWU receiving records and has been playing catch with Nichols for 4 years.

Their offensive coordinator Aaron Best played at EWU and graduated 9 years ago, then was the OL coach under Wulff, and is now the OC. He said they have basically used the same play calling system for 13 years.

Last year they averaged 98 yards rushing per game and 299 passing. They attempted 305 rush to 450 passes. In prior years that they were more balanced. Last week, they rushed 31 times and passed 30 times.

From the few clips I have seen, Nichols mixes in short routes with deep routes pretty evenly. He definitely looks like he likes to hold on the to the ball, stare down his primary guy, and hit him deep. That guy more often than not is Boyce. He can move around, has quick feet, and can throw decently well on the run. He threw 17 INTs his freshman year, only 9 his sophomore year, and then 14 again last year.

Conclusion: this offense knows what it wants to do, has experienced players who know the system, will likely strive for run-pass balance, and will get the ball in Jones' and Boyce's hands as much as possible. It is also turnover prone.


I know even less about the defense. Their defensive coordinator is new and came over with their head coach Baldwin. From their participation stats from last week's game, it appears they run a 4-3 with a weakside end and three tackles, which sounds to me like the DE is the hybrid or "elephant" type player and the tackles are traditional down linemen. These four players go freshman, sophomore, junior senior.

The previews suggest the defense lost its biggest playmakers up front on the defensive line to graduation, but the strength of the team is at linebacker, where they go freshman, junior, senior.

At secondary, they have a four year starter at FS, a junior and senior at corner, and a soph at SS. Losing Jones from the corner position forced them to move a corner over to safety.

The clips from last year show an aggressive pressure defense, that mixes in some blitz, hits hard and plays fast. However, they lost their biggest playmaker, a defensive end named Peach, who appears have been the heart and soul of the defense, a Follett-type.

Game Plan

Like any game, Cal should exploit its advantages, which are speed on offense, superior line play, and pressure on defense. While Cal's receivers and passing game are good, this game can be won in the trenches with the run. Cal should focus on executing its run plays with precision and mix in some play action and screens here and there. With Best and Vereen's speed and the OL's ability, the creases should be there and Best and Vereen should make some big plays. I don't anticipate the need to throw the ball a ton.

On defense, the key is to keep everything in front of them early, don't let Jones untracked, and pressure Nichols over and over once they get into passing situations. I think he can be forced into INTs and that should blow the game wide open. Eventually, that will take away the run.

Some things I'd like to see

1. Run blocking executed perfectly. Though the blocking was pretty good Saturday, a few guys made some mental mistakes. Let's see if the team's talk about correcting its mistakes holds true. If it does, I predict some highlight runs.

2. Run defense executed perfectly. I think everyone knows what needs to be done here after last week.

3. Better kickoffs and better kick coverage.

4. More TE passes.

5. Not to take anything away from EWU, but Cal should get up early enough on this team to let its reserves play the entire second half. In particular, guys I'd like to see more of for depth development at key positions are Kapp, Galas, Owusu, Guyton, Campbell, and Brooks.

6. Best, Vereen, Riley, Alualu, Jordan, Syd, Guarnero, Schwartz, Tepper, Jones and Tucker on the bench as soon as possible.


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