Eastern Michigan used last week’s practices to fine tune what it had been building since the spring, and Saturday will be the team’s first chance to test its product.
First-year coach Ron English and the Eagles open their season against Army; kickoff is set for 7 at Rynearson Stadium.
“I’m excited, and our team is excited,” English said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ll be here to play. We’ve been going at it for a long time. We had a really hard camp.”
There was a different feel to camp with a new coaching staff, following the firing of former coach Jeff Genyk at the end of last season. And, with the new staff, comes change.
The spread offense is out, and the pro-style is in. The new style should be more conservative and features the tailback more rather than a slew of receivers.
There’s a new slogan: “Embrace the Process.” It’s slapped right above the doorway to the weight room and is a popular phrase among coaches and players.
There is optimism surrounding the program, but the fact of the matter is this was still a 3-9 team last season. And transitioning to a new coaching staff and offense will not be easy.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Andy Schmitt said he believes the team is confident it will improve on past years. He has a lot of talented skill players around him, including receiver Jacory Stone and an experienced backfield of Terrence Blevins, Dwayne Priest and Corey Welch.
“It gives you confidence,” Schmitt said. “When you have that confidence you don’t worry about certain things. We got a lot of guys with experience too, which helps me.”
There are questions on the defense, with the possibility of two new, regular starters at linebacker. Marcus English and Tim Fort are each listed as starters on the depth chart and have three collegiate starts between them, all of which belong to Fort.
The secondary looks like a strong point. English has focused a lot of attention on it throughout camp, and Johnny Sears and Ryan Downard have played well in practice.
English said it’s always difficult to prepare for a triple-option offense like Army features because it’s hard to simulate the tempo in practice.
“It’s hard to do,” English said. “We try to focus on assignment football.”
He said the scout team has done a good job running the triple option and giving the defense a good look at what it will see tonight.
When the teams met last season, Army ran for 341 yards and won 17-13 despite not netting any passing yards. Aside from Priest’s 118 rushing yards, Eastern’s offense stalled and wasn’t able to capitalize on two turnovers.
English downplayed any correlation of last season’s loss resulting into a revenge factor and deferred comment to his players.
“It provides a lot of motivation,” receiver DeAnthony White said. “It’s a game that we should’ve had. We’re not underestimating them at all because they beat us last year.”
Schmitt echoed that statement.
“That was last year, but we definitely need to get them back,” he said. “We’re going into this game really strong and ready to go after them. We know they’re going to play tough, and we got to come out and play the same.”