EMU 34, Howard 24 recap
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.
“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
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.”
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.
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.
- Possibly a first. [↩]
- 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. [↩]