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EMU 34, Howard 24 recap

September 1, 2013

Remember when I told you that the  closest Howard had ever come to a Division I-A/FBS school was 23 points?

I almost wanted to just end this recap there. If there is such a thing as a moral victory, then there also must be such a thing as a moral loss, and if so, this was surely one.

It was almost worse, though; it was almost an actual loss. With EMU trailing 17-13 midway through the third quarter, I suggested to a friend that a loss to Howard should result in an immediate firing.  Moments later, the Bison scored again, taking a double-digit lead and I was ready for the entire coaching staff to lose their jobs on the spot. Let’s face it, if they had proven unable to coach the team to a win over Howard, they probably wouldn’t have been able to find any other wins on the schedule this year either; the Bison are expected to be far and away the worst team the Eagles will face this fall.

Fortunately, EMU came back with 21 unanswered points to turn an 11-point deficit into a 10-point win. Plus, I’m not the one making that decision anyway, and let’s face it, that’s probably a good thing too.

Looking at that score, looking at how the Eagles fell behind, I have to say that it’s hard to see this year ending any better than 4-8, and 1-11 is not unimaginable. However, if all you wanted was the score, you’d probably go to the “Worldwide Leader” — since you’re here, I assume you want a more in-depth analysis, or at least wouldn’t mind one, so that’s what you’ll get.

EMU offense

“That was my play, I called it. Stan [Parrish] gives me one play and I wanted as soon as we crossed the 50, go, we call that ‘Stay Deep’, so that was my play, and he said next week I don’t get any plays.” – Ron English

Tyler Benz continues to show improvement as a passer, and his stat line tonight was downright decent in most regards. He completed 19 of 26 passes, for an impressive 73% completion rate, totaling 210 passing yards (8.1 yards per attempt), with two touchdowns and one interception. In the post-game press conference, Ron English took some of the blame1 for the interception; he said he’d called a single offensive play, asking for a deep pass the first time the Eagles crossed mid-field, and that was Benz’s interception that ended the opening drive. Although you always want to see improvement, if Benz produces that kind of stat line on a regular basis in the MAC, I’d be entirely satisfied with it.

As for the running game, Bronson Hill never really seemed to get going. He finished with 28 carries for 100 yards, just 3.6 yards per carry with a longest run of 11 yards. Specifically asked about Hill’s performance, Ron English noted, “Early on I though he was just OK, I thought he was looking for the home run a lot…when you have backs that get big plays, then you fall into the trap of looking for big plays and then you don’t make any plays.” In other words, Hill needs to learn to take what the defense gives him. I think that’s a fair assessment, and it’s part of learning and developing as a player.

In the first 7/8 of the game, Darius Jackson had just four touches: two catches for 12 yards, two carries for 2 yards. On EMU’s final two possessions, he carried five times for 62 yards and a touchdown, finishing at more than 9 yards per carry. English mentioned that he wasn’t happy with the discrepancy in touches between Jackson and Hill. “I personally wanted it to be a little more even. It was 28 carries for Bronson and 7 for D-Jack, so I’m sure we’re going to make that more even. In my mind there’s not that much difference in ’em. Darius Jackson is an awesome back, and he needs touches. He’s going to break tackles, he’s going to stick it up in there, and as you saw he’s got great speed, so we need to get him more touches.”

EMU defense

As Ron English noted after the game, although Howard had 202 yards on 35 attempts (5.8 yards per carry), 140 of those yards came on two big plays. Both English and linebacker Sean Kurtz attributed the big plays to errors in individual execution. I haven’t looked at the film to see whose errors they were, but I’d imagine someone is going to be hearing it in practice this week. Take those out, and for other 33 carries, the Bison had minimal success, averaging just 1.8 yards per carry; looked at another way, take those out and EMU would have led the entire game en route to a 24-10 final score2 — just about the minimum victory margin I was really looking for.

About his interception, Searn Kurtz said, “They were running what we like to call a spot route all game. Really I probably should have had the pick in the second quarter, because they ran it about three or four times before that. They pushed the running back out, so as soon as that happens, #1 receiver ran right in and I just read it. We already had man-to-man coverage, so I was kind of a free player, and I just broke over, and the quarterback just looked right to me and threw it. It was a pretty easy pick.” That interception was probably the turning point in the game. It was EMU’s first defensive stop in five full possessions (Howard had scored on the previous four possessions, not counting a one-play possession to end the first half) and gave EMU the ball at the Howard 15 yard line, setting up Bronson Hill’s go-ahead touchdown. The Bison went three-and-out on their next two possessions, and never really got going on offense after that.

Aside from that, English noted that it’s a young defense that’s still learning. “With this being our first time together as a defense, you know, there were three or four snaps where we really struggled getting lined up with what they were doing.”

EMU special teams

I’m partially withholding judgement on EMU’s special teams because of the small sample size — it’s not fair to judge based on two punt returns, for example — but I wasn’t impressed with much of what I saw, and the numbers bear that out. 4.5 yards per punt return by Demarius Reed, 21.5 yards per kickoff return by Tyler Allen, 39.2 yards per punt by Austin Barnes, and 59.8 yards per kickoff by Kody Fulkerson are all numbers that all safely below the national averages. As the new guy, Barnes’s performance deserves particular scrutiny; I thought he showed flashes of talent but was inconsistent. He had several outstanding punts (a 55+ yarder for a touchback, a 48-yarder for a fair catch at the Howard 10 yard line, and a 45 yard kick downed at the Howard 5 yard line) but also several errors that could have been the difference against a better opponent (a 36-yard kick that went out of bounds at the EMU 47 and a high 12-yard kick that went out of bounds late in the fourth quarter). The bright spot was EMU’s punt/kick coverage, which allowed no punt returns and held Howard under 17 yards per kickoff return — if maintained for a full season (unlikely, of course), that would easily rate as one of the top coverage units nationally.

Up next

So where do we go from here?

Although I started off by referring to last night as a “moral loss”, in the end, a win’s a win and a loss is a loss. EMU was expected to win this game — needed to win this game — and although it wasn’t nearly as easy as we’d hoped and expected, they did win. EMU is expected to lose their next two games on the road (badly), so at this point, it ought to be pretty easy for EMU to meet expectations for the next 20 days. In my mind, the primary goals for the next 2+ weeks are for all the players to stay healthy and to work on resolving some of the mental issues that caused the Eagles problems on both sides of the ball last night, so they can go into the early Homecoming game on September 21 ready to face a very good Ball State team.

  1. Possibly a first. []
  2. The first big play was when running back Willie Parker ran 64 yards for a touchdown in Howard’s third possession, tying the game at 7. The other was Howard’s second possession of the third quarter, when do-everything quarterback Greg McGhee ran 75 yards before Darius Scott pulled him down at the 2-yard-line; EMU had the Bison stopped, but a roughing the passer call against Donald Coleman on fourth down game Howard new life, and  McGhee punched it in for another touchdown. []
15 Comments leave one →
  1. Ken permalink
    September 1, 2013 1:02 pm

    I don’t remember who the player was, but it seemed like on a couple of the plays, number 8 for Howard was pretty open (I wont say wide open because the defense was down on him pretty quickly). It seemed like there were missed tackles on the big plays. So I’m hoping that will improve in the future.

  2. Chief Huron permalink
    September 1, 2013 2:17 pm

    Barnes 12 yard punt was due to a high snap that almost went over his head and he punted it to avoid being blocked. The fact that Barnes had to punt at all was due to poor clock management.

    • cmadler permalink*
      September 1, 2013 2:27 pm

      Agree on the clock management. I didn’t see that snap — I’d looked away and just looked back in time to see the ball going almost straight up. A bad snap is entirely possible, things like that do have more potential to happen when you’ve got a freshman punter and a freshman long snapper together.

      • Jes Knappin permalink
        September 1, 2013 5:56 pm

        Barnes’ 12 yard punt was the play of the game. Snap was extremely high; Barnes jumped and snagged it one handed; came down and with a lot of “company” got the punt away unblocked. His grab of the bad snap prevented a touchdown (wouldn’t have mattered). First game freshman punter & snapper and probably plenty of first game butterflies. It’s early, but yeah, I’m a believer!

  3. Ken permalink
    September 1, 2013 6:05 pm

    Was it bad clock management or something else? It seems like they didn’t start the start the clock on the second snap that set of downs.

    • Jes Knappin permalink
      September 1, 2013 6:30 pm

      Don’t fully understand the opening KO to EMU do-over. With 5 yd. penalty, EMU had ball at 38 yd. line. Coach English elects to have Howard re-kick and EMU ends up with ball at 25 yd. line. Loss of 13 yds. to start the game. Why? Did English think the Howard players would be winded and unable to defend 2nd KO run back? If so, too cute, way too soon. Yes I’m second guessing (that’s what we Sunday morning armchair coaches do best) and of course Coach English would be elevated to genius status if 2nd. KO had been run back for a TD.

      • Andy Dufresne permalink
        September 3, 2013 12:30 pm

        That was an embarrassing way to start the season. Not so much from a game standpoint, but more from a game operations viewpoint.

        The ref is announcing the penalty and the rekick. Except that you couldn’t hear the ref because the PA announcer is talking and saying its a first down at the 35.
        Then when the players started going back to kickoff, there was no announcement as to what was going on. Led to lots of confusion in the stands.

        Regardless of the product on the field, it’s stuff like that which makes EMU look small time.
        At least the opening video (as the players come out) didn’t crap out like it usually does. Baby steps.

  4. cmadler permalink*
    September 1, 2013 7:01 pm

    One other thing I left out: I was not happy with Willie Creear’s interception on the last play of the game. It didn’t matter since he got it, and it wouldn’t have mattered either way because Howard was down by 10 (not even sure why Howard ran that play), but the better move in defending an end-of-game hail mary pass is to just bat it down; it’s easier, it’s safer, and it gets you the same result. Like I said, not a big deal given these circumstances, but it did bother me a little.

    • Jes Knappin permalink
      September 1, 2013 7:33 pm

      Not an uncommon reaction by a player, but certainly a situational play that should be addressed by coaches. Seen same thing happen in the NFL by far more experienced player that should know better.

  5. Ramond James permalink
    September 2, 2013 1:48 pm

    It was actually number 1 who was always open. He was open all night and they never looked for him.I watched him and number 8. EMU got lucky Howard never got the ball to number 1. You are correct that 8 was open also and Howard never threw the ball down field to loosen up the coverage. If thats the best cover package EMU has it is going to be a long season.

  6. Kenneth Barna permalink
    September 2, 2013 4:01 pm

    Dear cmadler,
    As I said in my posting on Howard’s End. It is still too early to tell what Eastern is capable of achieving, and that maybe Howard was a better team then Eastern had anticipated.
    I’m still of the opinion that Eastern is capable of playing a good game against Pennsylvania State. I believe that, because Eastern ran a very bland offensive scheme that was very similar to what they ran most of last year. Now I could be wrong, but I think they did that so as to not reveal too much to their next opponent. That doesn’t mean that Eastern will run constant flea flickers, reverses, screen passes, etc., but I would be disappointed if we didn’t run some of those plays during this week’s game with Pennsylvania State. This also means that Eastern’s defense will have to be on their toes, because I’m sure their opponent is thinking the same thing.

  7. Grady permalink
    September 3, 2013 10:22 am

    I can’t anything positive away from this game other than the players never quit. Howard moved the ball on us at will and if they had depth they would not have run out of gas at the end; they would have likely scored more.

    I know college football is different from even 5-6 years ago and each week is unique, but unless EMU can beat Ball State at HC they will be 1-4 facing back to back road games in New York. In other words, there is a likely chance (if they lose to BSU) they will be 2-6 before the home game against Ohio on Oct. 19.


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