Ball State 37, EMU 26
There’s really not that much worth saying about tonight’s game, other than that it was a piss-poor showing by an EMU team that had — past tense — hoped to compete for a MAC West title this fall. Rather than looking like a title contender, or even last year’s .500 squad, this looked far more like any of the 2-10 or 3-9 (or 2-9 or 3-8, when seasons were 11 games) teams that have been all-too-common in Ypsilanti over the past two decades.
But, even though there’s not that much worth saying about the game, we’ll say it anyway, because that’s what we do. I started this blog with the Eagles coming of an 0-12 football season, and one more loss here or there is hardly going to deter me.
In the off-season, the EMU coaches hinted that they wanted to see more passing this fall, so let’s start with the Eagles’ passing game. Sure, Alex Gillett threw for 191 yards and three touchdowns, but it took him 34 attempts to do it, for a 44% completion rate and 5.6 yards per attempt. Both figures are well below his 2011 averages, and, if sustained for a season, would make him statistically one of the worst passers in the country. Gillett certainly played poorly, but it would be unfair to put all the blame on him. There were plenty of on-target passes dropped by the EMU receivers.
The one bright spot offensively was, unsurprisingly, the running game. EMU averaged 5.9 yards per carry, with both Gillett and Javonti Greene having particular success, averaging 7.4 and 8.0 yards per carry, respectively. When you’re able to run with that kind of success, you don’t really need to pass the ball much, and frankly, probably shouldn’t. EMU had five drives cross mid-field; one only reached the Ball State 49-yard line, and the other four were touchdowns. The problem was the other nine possessions. By and large, the Eagles struggled to put together sustained drives, and again, that was largely a function of the play-calling. Even when they were running the ball, the plays were often inappropriate to the situation (4th-and-1 at mid-field on EMU’s first drive, and Gillett dropped back 5 yards to make a deep handoff, resulting in Sherrer being tackled at the line of scrimmage; a keeper or a quick shovel pass outside to Greene, who could have just fallen forward for the first down, would have made far more sense) or non-plays — what the ESPN announcers referred to as “playground football”. I know that the coaches have some talented young receivers that they want to show off, and they want to establish early in the season that this is a multi-dimensional offense, but getting a win in this game was more important. I have to think that if the Eagles had just pounded away on the ground, this would have been a very different game. The next three games are non-conference games that could have been used to establish this team’s passing credentials.
On special teams, Jay Karutz certainly performed well, averaging 44.9 yards per punt, and booming a career-long 64-yarder. He also dropped three punts inside the 20-yard line, including one that rolled to the 3-yard line. The Cardinal’s kicker made some impressive field goals, but it’s hard to fault Kody Fulkerson when the EMU offense never got him on the field.
EMU’s defense was also weak, particularly in the first and third quarters, when Ball State scored 31 of their 37 points. This was partly to be expect with so many new faces, but the lack of discipline and missed tackles by the linebackers were particularly concerning, allowing Jahwan Edwards to run all over them for more than 200 yards at the ridiculous rate of 10 yards per carry. Ball State’s offense is good, no doubt, but I don’t think they’re quite that good.
Fortunately, EMU will have a long week to prepare for their next game, and fortunately it’s a non-conference game against an FCS opponent, Illinois State.