Eastern Michigan will make the short trip to Ann Arbor on Saturday to face Michigan, in hopes of improving on a dismal track record against the Wolverines and the Big Ten.
The Eagles are 0-8 against U-M in a series dating to 1896, and they have never defeated a Big Ten opponent in 26 chances. They came close last week, though, in a 27-24 last-second loss to Northwestern.
“We made improvements in a lot of areas,” coach Ron English said Monday in a teleconference about the week-to-week progression. “We just have a ways to go in terms of playing winning football.”
English’s team will certainly have to improve come noon on game day when it plays in front of more than 100,000 fans at No. 25 Michigan. Eastern has committed 17 penalties and five turnovers in its two losses.
U-M, however, has looked like a well-oiled machine – especially its offense – in wins over Western Michigan and Notre Dame. It has totaled 869 yards and 69 points.
“I think it’s hard,” English said about facing the Wolverines. “They match you up athletically with good skill on good skill. It just comes down to guys making individual plays.”
EMU lost 33-22 in the team’s last meeting in 2007, when English was U-M’s defensive coordinator. But both coaching staffs have since been revamped, and second-year Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez isn’t underestimating his opponent.
“Sometimes even when you lose a game like they did, a tough one at Northwestern on the road, they’re going to get a little more confidence,” Rodriguez said Monday at his news conference.
“I think they will because of that. (Andy Schmitt) is another veteran guy. Anytime you have a veteran quarterback that’s played in big games and had some success it gives you a shot. We’re going to get their best effort from the first snap to the last.”
Schmitt, a fifth-year senior, was 15-of-28 passing for 108 yards and in interception against U-M in 2007. He also had nine carries for 41 yards and a touchdown. English said Schmitt “did a better job last week”against Northwestern and he“took command of the offense.”
Eastern has switched from last season’s spread to a pro-style offense, which features tailback Dwayne Priest. He ran for 127 yards and a touchdown against Northwestern, and he and the offense looked much better than it had the previous week against Army.
In the 2007 game, Priest had 38 rushing yards. The Eagles fell behind 10-0 but rallied to bring the score to 16-14 in the third quarter. Michigan went on to score 17 unanswered before Eastern tacked on a touchdown late. The 22 points were the most EMU has ever had against U-M.