Central Michigan is down.
That is the proverbial thought coming from Ypsilanti, Michigan, home of the Eastern Michigan Eagles. After CMU's 13-10 loss to Temple last week, the aura of Mid-American Conference invisibility has officially been lifted. After three MAC titles in four years and a 21-3 record in the MAC over the last three years, including 8-0 last season, Central Michigan has become vulnerable after their loss to Temple, at least in the eyes of EMU fans.
While it would be easy to point out the Eagles on the field shortcomings, including their rousing 0-12 season last year, it is fair to point out that EMU has been a thorn in the side of Central Michigan recently. Downtrodden and trying to work their way back to football respectability, Eastern Michigan always manages to raise their level of play against the Chippewas, and it's no secret that a win over CMU on Saturday would be a program defining moment for the Eagles and Ron English. If recent history has taught is anything, it's that an EMU win is always possible. Of the Chippewas three MAC losses over the past three years, ironically enough, two of them have come against Eastern Michigan (2007 & 2008). Combine that with the on the field actions led by former-EMU head coach Jeff Genyk in 2008 which resulted in a near brawl at halftime, and there is no questioning the Eagles motivation to beat CMU.
"We've kind of put that chapter to bed. I think I've gone on record saying it was one of the more disappointing days in my career. I've never seen that kind of orchestrated behavior by a coaching staff for sixty minutes. I've seen coaches go nuts, players go nuts, intimidation, and I understand all that, but for sixty minutes was different. It was all rather strange and bizarre, and I think it was not only a disappointing day for the rivalry, but for college football. Also, we got beat, and it was a travesty that some individuals put themselves ahead of their players who beat us in a football game and took the spotlight away from them" said CMU Athletic Director Dave Heeke shortly after the incident in 2008.
And that incident culminated with 56-8 thrashing handed out by CMU last year at home, and although nobody within the CMU athletic program admitted it, there was a clear message attached. Now, CMU will be making their first trip to Rynearson Stadium since "EagleGate" and there will be a lot at stake for both programs.
EASTERN MICHIGAN OFFENSE
At quarterback for the Eagles will be Alex Gillett, who comes on as both EMU's leading passer and rusher. He has completed 22-39 passes for 202 yards, with 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Gillett has also rushed for 163 yards and 1 touchdown on 32 attempts. Through two games, it's clear Gillett is a dual-threat QB, but a dual-threat QB who has yet to develop into an efficient passer. And it's clear the Eagles coaching staff has yet to put full confidence in him as Eastern Michigan has attempted nearly twice as many rushing plays (83) as they have passing plays (43). At running back, EMU is led by 5-foot-8 and 192 pound senior Dwayne Priest. Expected to have a strong senior season, Priest has rushed for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns on 34 attempts, and he is probably the Eagles most proven playmaker. No EMU wide receiver has stepped up as a go to guy, and that's probably just a representation of their passing game this far. 6-foot-4 and 240 pound senior tight end Ben Thayer leads the team with 8 receptions and sophomore WR Kinsman Thomas leads the team with 144 yards receiving. WR Trey Hunter and TE Josh Leduc are the other Eagles watch out for. On the line, EMU is led by 6-foot-3 and 312 pound tackle Bridger Buche and sophomore guard Andrew Sorgatz.
EMU averages 24 points per game and does most of their damage on the ground, averaging just over 175 yards per game on the ground.
EASTERN MICHIGAN DEFENSE
Following a familiar pattern, EMU has not fielded a strong defense in 2010. The Eagles allow 29 points per game and have been especially awful defending the run, as teams have averaged a whopping 245 yards per game against them. They only allow 114 yards per game through the air, but that is probably more of an indication of their porous rush defense then anything they are doing in pass coverage. To further illustrate team's preference to run on EMU, opponents have attempted 92 runs to only 36 passes against them.
EMU is led by senior linebacker Tim Fort who has posted 24 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 FF through two games. Senior linebacker Neal Howey is second on the team with 21 tackles. Junior defensive end Javon Resse is the Eagles leading pass rusher, and he has posted 2 sacks already. Senior safety Ryan Downard is the leader in the secondary and is probably their best cover man.
KEY EMU STATS
* EMU has not won a game since November 28th, 2008.
* Coincidentally enough, that win came against Central Michigan
* EMU's two losses in 2010 have come by a combined 11 points
* EMU averages -1 yards per punt return….yes that is a negative sign
* Allow 245 yards rushing to opponent per game
HOW IT SHAKES OUT
For Central Michigan, it comes down to how they respond. EMU is signaling that they see weakness in the Chippewas after their 13-10 loss to Temple and an entire community effort has been put in place to make sure Saturday's game against CMU is a big time atmosphere.
That said, CMU has a significant talent advantage at nearly every position and the sieve that has been EMU's rush defense leaves a gaping hole in their game plan. Behind Paris Cotton, Carl Volny and an explosive Zurlon Tipton off suspension, CMU should be able to rush at will on the Eagles. While QB Ryan Radcliff had his growing pains in last week's loss to Temple, he made several big throws and has developed chemistry with budding playmaker/wide receiver Cody Wilson. Should CMU avoid costly turnovers, they should be able to score points on EMU.
As for the CMU defense vs. EMU offense matchup, it's all going to come down to whether EMU signal caller Alex Gillett can effectively pass the ball. With a strong CMU rush defense, it's unlikely the Eagles will have consistent success on the ground.
Expect Eastern Michigan to come out hyped and ready to play, and it's also a safe bet to expect some trick plays and trash talking. But a culture has been developed at CMU and whether it's admitted or not, there is some revenge on the mind of the Chippewas after the actions by EMU in 2008.
Central Michigan: 27
Eastern Michigan: 13