EMU 35, Central Michigan 28 recap: Greene and White all day!
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be savoring this win for quite a while.
EMU is now 4-3. That’s already the most wins they’ve managed since 2007, and they have several very winnable games remaining. The last time the Eagles started MAC play 2-1 was 2005, when they posted wins over Central Michigan and Kent State but lost to Toledo, starting a five-game losing streak that saw them end the season at 4-7. For the last time EMU managed four wins in their first seven games you have to go all the way back to 1995, which also happens to be the last winning season. This was also EMU’s first win against Central Michigan since 2008, the Eagles’ best defensive showing against the Chippewas since 2006, and EMU’s largest margin of victory in this series since 2000.
A week after we complained about the offense — and it wasn’t just here, message boards and Facebook exploded — many, but not all of the problems were fixed. The defense also performed respectably, though again, there were are some significant remaining causes for concern.
First, let’s talk about what went well yesterday.
Passing offense: No one is ever going to mistake Alex Gillett for Kellen Moore, but yesterday he did a great job of playing within his abilities. He completed six of eight passes, all short routes to Garrett Hoskins (4 for 43 yards) and Trey Hunter (2 for 33 yards). The two incomplete passes both came in the first quarter, one to Dominique White and one to Donald Scott, and Central Michigan was flagged for pass interference on the latter play; if you count the pass interference call as a 15-yard completion, Gillett’s passer rating was 183.05. He didn’t pass for any touchdowns, but he also didn’t throw any interceptions.
Rushing offense: EMU absolutely ran all over Central Michigan, to the tune of 350 yards on 50 carries, an average of 7.0 yards per rush. I don’t know if it was a weakness they saw in the Chippewas or a strength in the way the Eagles lined up, but the vast majority of the carries went to the right. I think I saw one successful run to the left — Gillett pitched to Greene late in the first quarter for a seven yard gain, but when they tried to repeat it, Greene was stuffed for a six yard loss — and there were a few up the middle, including three short touchdown runs and Gillett’s 30-yard game-winner, but nearly all of EMU’s yards came on the right side of the field. Dominique White started, but he split carries with Javonti Greene at 19 each, while Gillett had 11. (Astonishingly, EMU’s 350 rushing yards were only the third-most in the MAC yesterday; Temple had 458 and Northern Illinois piled up 494 on Western Michigan.)
Rushing defense: EMU’s defense largely stuffed Central Michigan’s running game, allowing just 98 yards on 32 carries (3.1 yards per carry).
Let’s not pretend this game was a bigger success than it really was, however. Several aspects of the game left cause for concern.
Passing defense: The pass rush was decent; the Eagles never managed to sack Ryan Radcliff, but they were in his face all afternoon, forcing him to hurry or alter a number of passes. But the coverage was, by and large, atrocious. The EMU secondary made some good open-field tackles, but they were regularly playing five to ten yards off the receivers, which allowed Central Michigan to zip down the field — twice — to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. On those two drives, Radcliff completed 13 of 16 passes, and one of those was dropped by the receiver. Sure, Gillett made a great play to score the game-winning touchdown, but if the EMU defense had done its job, he never would have needed to. When the Chippewas got the ball back with 37 seconds to drive 71 yards, the EMU cornerbacks repeatedly let the receivers make catches along the sideline, where they could get out-of-bounds to stop the clock. Central Michigan was out of timeouts, so making any of those tackles in-bounds would have ended the game sooner. If EMU had lost the game after being up 15 points with less than four minutes remaining, we’d be screaming about the defensive collapse, and I’m not going to let them off the hook just because the offense bailed them out. Latarrius Thomas was the leading tackler for EMU, and when a safety is your leading tackler, you’ve got issues.
Aggression: This one ties right in with last week’s complaints about the offense. After Central Michigan’s punter dropped the ball, giving EMU possession at the 50-yard line with 39 seconds left in the first half, I though EMU had a great opportunity to at least score a field goal and go into halftime up four points. Instead, EMU ran just one play, a rush up the middle, and then let time run out. I had a feeling at the time that the lack of aggression to close out the half would come back to bite the Eagles, and it very nearly did. If Gillett had been unable to score at the end of the game, the refusal to even try to put points on the board could have allowed the game to go into overtime. I firmly believe that when a team has an opportunity to score points, they should go for it. If nothing else, it would have presented a nice in-game opportunity to practice a hurry-up offense.
Here are my concerns about what we saw yesterday: offensively, this was just about a perfect performance by the Eagles. I don’t see how this team can do much more than this. Counting the pass interference as a completion, Gillett was 7 of 8 for 91 yards and no interceptions. The running game averaged 7 yards per carry and no fumbles. The only miscues were two first-half field goal misses, possibly attributable to the wind and a botched return by Ryan Brumfield that was negated by an early whistle. Add six points for the two misses, and that puts a ceiling of about 41 points on this team — which is exactly what they scored at home against Howard. The onus is then on the defense to hold every opponent under 41 points, assuming a near-perfect game by the EMU offense, or less than that if the offense struggles. Looking at the Eagles’ remaining games, Northern Illinois is likely to score at least 41 points — they’re averaging 39.6 points per game, and that’s dragged way down by Wisconsin holding them to 7 — Western Michigan has a good shot at that much offense, and Ball State has the potential to do it.
That’s all in the future, though. For now — for today — let’s enjoy this win!