LA GRANDE — It has been an up-and-down season for the Eastern Oregon University football team.
The Mountaineers started the season 3-0, winning narrowly against Montana Tech, Montana Western and Carroll College. The following three games were a disastrous combination of offensive inefficiencies, turnovers and rivalry losses.
At times the Mountaineers have looked like favorites to win the Frontier Conference, while at other times the team has struggled to score a single touchdown.
Offensive struggles have plagued Eastern this year, as the team is averaging just over 16 points per game. The Mountaineers managed just 20 total points over a three-game stretch against Carroll College, College of Idaho and Southern Oregon. The team has been outscored 141-98 on the season and is being outgained 339 yards per game to 299. After scoring 26 and 35 points in the team’s first two games, Eastern’s offense stalled in the following games.
It has been an inconsistent year for redshirt-senior quarterback Kai Quinn, who has had to carry the load of getting the offense back in rhythm over the past few games. While turnovers have been an issue, especially in a 34-17 loss to Rocky Mountain, Quinn has taken chances downfield in order to jumpstart Eastern’s offense. He has thrown for 1,130 yards and five touchdowns, but has been intercepted eight times this year.
The run game has been another key element of Eastern’s offensive struggles, with the team only collectively running for 100 or more yards twice this year. Quinn has done what he can to help the rushing game, tallying a team-high 259 net yards on the ground. However, that urgency to break out of the pocket led to three fumbles in the loss to the Battlin’ Bears.
With four games left in the year, Quinn will need to be in top form in order to spur this struggling Mountaineers offense back into a competitive unit.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Mountaineers have looked much improved from the last full season in 2019. The 2019 gave up just under 31 points per game and allowed 400 yards per contest. Eastern is allowing 23.5 points per game this season and giving up 339 total yards per game.
The Mountaineers have forced 12 turnovers and have made consistent efforts to keep the team in close matchups. In the losses to the College of Idaho and Southern Oregon, Eastern could not capitalize offensively when the defense was able to make holds late in the games.
Solo Taylor and Chase Van Wyck have been standouts on defense, with both players coming off all-conference seasons in 2020. Taylor leads the team with 50 tackles, while Van Wyck has four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss on the year. Sophomore Gabriel Shukle has been a breakout player this year, recording 3.5 sacks and 15 tackles.
For the Mountaineers, consistency will be key in the final four games of the year. If the offense can step up to its potential shown earlier in the season, the team’s defensive unit has proved it can keep Eastern in competitive games against top opponents.
The Mountaineers will have a week off to figure out offensive issues before facing four crucial matchups. Eastern is currently two games back of Rocky Mountain, who stands at 5-1 in conference play. With little room for error, every game may be a must-win for the Mountaineers moving forward.
Eastern’s next matchup could be an opportunity to kick start the offense against an 0-6 MSU Northern team that is allowing over 35 points per contest.