Ball State 51, Eastern Michigan 20
The only thing that would have made yesterday’s 51-20 Homecoming loss to Ball State more disastrous than it already was would have been if a bald eagle, soaring majestically above Rynearson Stadium, crashed to the earth and died in a violent, convulsive heap on the fifty-yard line. After an impressive opening drive to spring to a 6-0 lead – because even when Eastern is impressive, they still blow an extra point just to remind us they are Eastern – the Eagles were outscored 51-14.
I wrote in my laughably optimistic prediction of a 31-27 BSU victory that Eastern’s defense needed to control the Cardinal run game. Final stat: Ball State, 37 rushes for 197 yards and 5 TDs. To go with that, Ball State QB Keith Wenning threw for over 300 yards and two more TDs. Throw in some undisciplined penalties and one would assume the defense coordinator would be under a good deal of pressure.
Of course, we all know that the defensive coordinator is the head coach: Ron English. With an 11-42 career record to go with this kind of performance in an important game, can we safely say, with authority, that it isn’t working? Eastern Michigan fans suffered through 0-12 and 2-10 seasons to start English’s career. He insisted that the program needed to be blown up and rebuilt, to “embrace the process.” Where has that process taken the program?
Offensively, Eastern took a perfectly good spread QB and designed a playbook that worked against his talents. Now that English has his guys, and Tyler Benz isn’t a bad quarterback, we still see an offense underachieving. It isn’t just the underachievement, some of the moves are completely inexplicable. Which leads us to the Beak of the Week.
Normally, when I introduce the Beak of the Week I employ some wonderful animal imagery. But, and I apologize for this, I am too pissed off to think in metaphor this week. Bronson Hill was the player of the game. Hill had 21 rushes for 126 yards. Despite a coaching staff that decided to demote him, and despite an injured wrist. Hill deserves the Beak of the Week, when the game was hopeless, Hill was still running hard, moving the pile. Dude has heart.
Why was Hill benched? Hill is still a potent weapon for this offense. He was good enough to send headlong into the Penn State defense. He was good enough to keep giving the rock to against a Rutgers d-line which owned the Eastern front. Hill was benched because, according to Ron English, the coaches saw some things they liked in practice from Darius Jackson. Nothing against Jackson, he seems like a good RB with lots of potential, but he is NOT better than Hill. And he proved that by putting the ball on the turf twice, one a costly fumble which gave Ball State the ball in the Eastern red zone. Jackson wasn’t ready for prime time.
Can you think of a running back that is reliable, and rarely fumbles even though he is asked to carry the load week after week? Someone who has performed in actual game situations, not just practice? I can.
I can’t get Allen Iverson’s rant about practice out of my head. Practice? We’re talking about practice? The defining game of the season, the make or break game for the coach’s future? And we’re talking about practice? Damn. These practice issues needed to be worked out long ago. Bronson Hill is this team’s horse. And he gets thrown under the bus over practice?
Unless Hill was blatantly disrespectful to the coaches, or sloppy and lazy all week, there is no excuse to bench him. None. If Jackson did a few things the coach’s liked, give him some more carries, and get him involved. Benching Hill was an unbelievable bad decision. Except that it is believable. Horribly, horribly, believable to anyone who has followed this program over the last five years.
At this point, I leave the next decision to Heather Lyke. If it were to be determined that English should go now, and slap the interim tag on Stan Parrish for the rest of the season, I doubt there would be a howl of protest, in fact, I bet she would get a lot of support. Barring a miracle, the coach is a lame duck.
What of this miracle? Where will EMU stand after the next five games? Two on the road, yes against Buffalo and Army, but when has Eastern (in the English era) won two in a row on the road? Then the next three are against Ohio, at NIU, and at Toledo. What do you think, readers, 1-4 a safe bet on the next five?
That would make Eastern 2-7 heading into their Super Bowl, the Michigan MAC round-robin. Woo-hoo.
The worst aspect of a start like this is that the EMU fan can see what lies ahead. Cold days at Rynearson. Days with 1000 or so in the stands and a 3-9 finish to the season. How long can things go on like this? Why even have a football program?
The frustration of the game was summed up, not in the benching of Hill crashing and burning in two fumbles, not in the way English’s defense was completely manhandled, but at the end of the first half.
Down 34-13, EMU got the ball with :59 left until halftime. I knew what was going to happen, but was still shocked when I actually saw it. Eastern ran out the clock. Down 34-13, WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE!?!?!?!?!? Better play it safe, or else they will really be kicking your ass? Wouldn’t want to lose by an embarrassing margin, something like 51-20. The facepalm was invented for times such as these.
The clock is running out on English’s tenure here at EMU. Would that it was different, but it is not. Perhaps Heather Lyke will elect to try something bold, rather than run the clock out on the season as well.