Eastern Washington coming to Corvallis to win
Oregon State's most recent memory of locking horns with an FCS opponent was its 77-3 drubbing of woeful Nicholls State last Dec. 1.
The Beavers will be facing a much different quality Division I-AA team when they take on Eastern Washington Aug. 31 at Reser Stadium in the season opener for both schools.
Eastern, ranked fourth nationally in the FCS preseason poll, is coming off an 11-3 campaign in which it reached the semifinals of the FCS playoffs, losing 45-42 to Sam Houston State after falling behind 35-0 at halftime.
Coach Beau Baldwin enters his sixth season at the EWU helm with a 44-19 record. In 2010, the Eagles went 13-2 and won the national FCS championship. In 2011, they lost 30-27 at Washington and in 2012 they dropped a 24-20 decision at Washington State. OSU fans will remember the 2000 opener at Corvallis, in which the Beavers struggled to beat the Eagles 21-19 en route to an 11-1 season and a Fiesta Bowl rout of Notre Dame.
The Aug. 31 opener at Corvallis will be no walkover for the team wearing orange.
"That has been a very good program for a while," OSU coach Mike Riley says of the Eagles. "They play at a national championship level. They have taken both the Huskies and Cougars to the wire in back-to-back years."
The Eagles aren't going in satisfied with the $425,000 payout and hoping for respectable results. They'll be at Reser to win.
"Hell, yeah," Baldwin says. "We don't look at any game any differently than that. I'm not looking for us to just make a good showing."
Baldwin, whose Eagles beat FBS foe Idaho 20-3 at Moscow to open the 2012 season, relishes the opportunity to face the 25th-ranked Beavers.
"I love it. I absolutely love it," he says. "It's the opportunity to do something special. We came up a little short against Washington and Washington State, but I want those opportunities. Our kids do, too. "A lot of these kids grew up thinking they were going to go to Oregon State or Washington or Washington State. When they don't, there's that little chip on their shoulder. They want that opportunity to get after those guys. That's what I love about these games.
"But going against Oregon State is not just playing up a level. It's playing up a level against a team that went to a bowl game last year, with tremendous talent and quality coaching. I have the utmost respect for Coach Riley and that program. It's a tremendous challenge. We'll be underdogs on the road against a Pac-12 opponent. But I assure you, the mindset is we're going to win."
Baldwin, 41, is a Northwest guy. A former quarterback at Central Washington -- he backed up Jon Kitna as a senior and was quarterbacks coach when the Wildcats won the 1995 NAIA championship -- Baldwin coached there 10 seasons before coming to Cheney. He has specialized in grooming quarterbacks, including Bo Levi Mitchell, who won the 2011 Walter Payton Award as the nation's top FCS offensive player, and Vernon Adams, College Sporting News' FCS Freshman of the Year last season.
Adams, a 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore, split time with senior Kyle Padron last season. Adams finished the year ranked fourth nationally in passing efficiency, completing 60.9 percent of his passes for 1,961 yards and 20 touchdown while rushing for 342 yards.
The competition between Padron and Adams to start during the 2012 training camp "was a lot closer than people thought it would be," Baldwin says. "Vernon had an incredible camp. I still went with Kyle due to experience, but after a couple of games, I had to see what Vernon could do. He's still a young quarterback but with an immense amount of talent and moxie, which I love about him."
The Eagles lost plenty of talent off of last year's team. Three of their top four receivers are gone, including All-American Brandon Kaufman, who caught 93 passes for 1,850 yards and 16 TDs, and six of the seven linebackers.
Back, though, are the top two rushers in 5-11, 185-pound junior Quincy Forte (597 yards) and 5-10, 210-pound senior Demitrius Bronson (472 and 11 TDs); 6-2, 235-pound senior linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, who made a team-high 136 tackles, including 13 for loss, last season, and 5-9, 190-pound safety T.J. Lee, a second-team All-American. Twelve starters return, plus punter Jake Miller, who averaged 43.3 yards a year ago.
"I like our team," Baldwin says. "We have the potential to be the best defensive team I've had here. On offense, we're probably as physical as we've been in a lot of years -- the line in particular. We still have a lot of speed, but we've added the physical aspect to it."
The Eagles -- who threw for 319.2 yards and rushed for 123.5 yards per game a year ago -- employ a multiple-set, single-back offense in which they'll go shotgun three-quarters of the time and direct-snap 25 percent.
"We use elements of the spread and the pistol," Baldwin says. "I've joked that we're a 'nation' offense. We take a little bit from every team in the nation and make it our own."
Like Riley and his staff at Oregon State, Baldwin and his coaches have done an excellent job working with the talent on hand.
"We identify the student-athletes who fit our program," he says, "and then we go out and develop the crap out of them."
In 2011, Oregon State was ill-prepared for FCS opponent Sacramento State, which came into Reser for the stadium opener and left with a shocking 29-28 overtime victory. There is no comparison to the Hornets of two years and the Eagles of this season. In FCS terms, it's a C-plus pro game to an A. The Beavers are mindful of that. But Riley isn't using that as motivation.
"The real key factor in winning the (Eastern Washington) game is us," he says. "There should be a consistency in preparation and enthusiasm, no matter who you play. You don't have to worry about who the other team is."