A true test lies ahead for coach Ron English and his Eastern Michigan football team. Following a bye week, it’s set to open Mid-American Conference play against Temple two Saturdays from now.
And, as the competition was to become more equal than in the previous two games, it was announced Tuesday the Eagles lost their starting quarterback Andy Schmitt to a season-ending right knee injury that will require surgery.
“It is always disappointing news when you lose a player to injury,” English said in a press release. “Andy Schmitt is and will continue to be a great leader and tremendous part of what we are doing offensively.”
Losing a fifth-year senior and four-year starter can never be easy for a team and its coaching staff, but it isn’t the end of the world, either. The newly implemented pro-style offense has taken a lot of pressure off the quarterbacks and placed more on the running game.
The possible options to replace Schmitt are Kyle McMahon and Alex Gillett, but English has yet to announce a starter.
McMahon, a junior, has playing experience from filling in for an injured Schmitt in previous seasons. Gillett is a true freshman who replaced Schmitt when he was injured in a loss to Michigan on Saturday.
But, again, this probably means more carries for tailbacks Dwayne Priest, a junior, and Terrence Blevins, a senior. That shouldn’t be much of a burden, though, if the running game is as effective as it’s been against two Big Ten opponents.
Eastern is second in the MAC in rushing yards per game (130). Dwayne Priest is first in the conference in carries (63) and second in yards (301). Blevins has 59 yards and a touchdown.
With a bulk of its nonconference games done and over, aside from a Halloween date at Arkansas, the Eagles will play teams of their caliber – games on which they and English should be measured.
Those conference games are ones they need to be at least competitive in, with or without Schmitt, who told The Eastern Echo he’s “really excited about where this offense and team can go once we get into the MAC.”
Conference openers and homecoming games usually provide a lift and sense of excitement to teams, especially to ones struggling like 0-3 Eastern. Then the quarterback is injured and spirits are downed. English cannot let that happen against Temple (0-2) or the team is toast.
“It hurts,” senior receiver Jacory Stone told The Eastern Echo. “You don’t want to see anyone get hurt, especially someone you came in with. It’s painful because you think about what if you were in his shoes.”
Schmitt, Stone and 12 other seniors are on the roster. Most of them, aside from some transfers, have been with the program since they were recruited by former coach Jeff Genyk.
They’ve endured a 1-11 season in 2006, and the most wins they’ve had in a season was four in 2007. It takes a lot of determination and love of the game to stick with it through turmoil like that.
It takes even more to stick with it even after a season-ending injury – to be leader for your teammates. Schmitt has shown he has character, and I’d bet he’s up for the challenge.