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Eagle football team is reaping the rewards of their hard work in the offseason

Wide+receivers+Shaq+Hill+%28left%29+and+Nic+Sblendorio+%28right%29+celebrate+a+touchdown+with+teammates+during+a+game+against+Northern+Colorado+on+October+8th
Wide receivers Shaq Hill (left) and Nic Sblendorio (right) celebrate a touchdown with teammates during a game against Northern Colorado on October 8th

Wide receivers Shaq Hill (left) and Nic Sblendorio (right) celebrate a touchdown with teammates during a game against Northern Colorado on October 8th

Ivone Garza

Ivone Garza

Wide receivers Shaq Hill (left) and Nic Sblendorio (right) celebrate a touchdown with teammates during a game against Northern Colorado on October 8th

By Brandon Cline, Sports Editor

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In 2015, at 5:07 p.m. on November 21, the EWU football season slammed shut. The Eagles played the Portland State Vikings at home in a game they absolutely needed to win if they were to make the FCS playoffs and continue their season.

They lost 31-34, turning the ball over four times and giving up 250 rushing yards to the Vikings. The loss was the nail in the coffin to a season that was so full of optimism just earlier that month, when the Eagles were riding a six game winning streak. Essentially, the only thing preventing EWU from making their fourth straight playoff appearance was losing the final three games of the season.

Not only did EWU lose the last three games, they lost them badly, being outscored by an average of 22 points per game in three November games.

After the loss to the Vikings, head coach Beau Baldwin reflected on highs and lows of the 2015 season, saying that “there were times we weren’t as on point as we need to be. To do that it takes that grind in the offseason. We have to hit a reset button on how important each week and each play are.”

The most notable changes came on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Zak Hill was hired as the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator at Boise State University. In Hill’s place, the Eagles hired Troy Taylor, former University of California quarterback and the high school coach of University of Washington quarterback Jake Browning, a legitimate Heisman contender this season.

“He’s [Taylor] a coach I believe can fit really well into what we are already doing, but he can bring a lot of new ideas and freshness to improve upon the things we’ve previously accomplished,” Baldwin said.

Through seven games, the passing game has never looked better. The Eagles are averaging 445.6 yards per game through the air, 74.6 yards per game more than the next closest team.

However, the biggest improvements may be on the defensive side. After giving up an average of 39.55 points per game (ppg) in 2015, the Eagles are giving up 33.57 ppg in 2016, nearly a touchdown better. The Eagles have been an offensive juggernaut under Baldwin, but the belief held by many is that defense has been EWU’s kryptonite.

Another marked area of improvement is the turnover margin. After finishing -7 last season, 12th in the Big Sky, the Eagles are +7 through seven games this season, second in the conference.

Those extra opportunities have created more possessions for EWU’s potent offense to put points on the board, a large reason as to why EWU is averaging 46.57 ppg this season, after averaging 34.64 ppg last season.

Furthermore, the Eagles have absolutely owned the second halves of games, outscoring opponents 129-35 in the third and fourth quarters in conference games.

Conclusively, the improvements have led to an Eagle team that is 6-1 overall, and 4-0 in the Big Sky. The lone EWU loss was in the second week of the season to the five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State Bison on the road in overtime.

“I believe that God has a plan for me and a great plan for Eastern Washington,” said wide receiver Cooper Kupp at the end of last season when he announced his decision to return to EWU for his senior year. “I want to be a part of that and I’m really looking forward to … getting Eastern Washington back to a national championship.”

The Eagles cannot lay claim to a national championship quite yet, but an all-world passing game, an opportunistic defense and a team that enforces its will in second halves give EWU its best chance to reclaim national hardware.

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Eagle football team is reaping the rewards of their hard work in the offseason