The Eastern Michigan University Eagles (1-1) and the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights (1-1) will square off with a chance for a winning record on the line when the teams meet at High Point Solution Stadium in Piscataway, NJ on Saturday.
This is the first meeting all-time between the two schools and features first-year Athletic Directors in EMU’s Vice President/Director of Athletics Heather Lyke and Rutgers’ Athletic Director Julie Hermann.
The Eagles are looking to recover from a 45-7 loss to Penn State University last week in a game where EMU accumulated only 183 total yards (139 in the first half) to PSU’s 574.
EMU only managed to gain 61 yards on the ground with most of them coming from junior running back Bronson Hill, who accounted for 38 on 13 carries. Hill has been the number one guy rushing the ball with 139 yards and two touchdowns after the first two weeks of the season.
The Eagles will be looking to get back on track in the passing game with redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Benz in the pocket. Benz has thrown for 325 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, completing 69.2% of his passes. He will be looking for his go-to receiver in junior tight end Tyreese Russell, who has 101 yards and a touchdown reception on the season.
Lining up in the backfield for the Scarlet Knights is junior running back Paul James. James leads the American Athletic Conference with 301 rushing yards and is tied for second in rushing touchdowns with three.
Gary Nova will be under center for the Scarlet Knights. The junior quarterback has 498 passing yards and six touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season. Nova will have sophomore wide receiver Leonte Carroo to throw to. Nova has connected to Carroo for three touchdowns, all which were in week one against Fresno State University in a 52-51 overtime loss.
The RU offense will be facing an EMU defense that has allowed two passing touchdowns and 505 passing yards on the young season.
“We still are not even close to what we’re going to be because we still made some errors,” head coach Ron English said about the Eagles defense after the team’s loss to PSU. “We’re just going to get better and better.”
Keys to the Game:
Turnover control: PSU’s defense failed to force any turnovers on the Eagles last week. EMU has one turnover this season – an interception thrown by Benz on the first drive of the season. EMU’s running game has fumbled twice but recovered the ball both times.
Rutgers has recovered three fumbles and made two interceptions against its opponents this year. The Scarlet Knights have three offensive turnovers in two games.
Running game: With James and junior running back Savon Huggins accounting for nearly half of the Scarlet Knights’ offense, the Eagles will need Hill and sophomore Darius Jackson to step up. Hill and Jackson combine for 222 yards on 56 carries compared to Huggins and James’s 412 on 67 attempts.
Special teams: Small-ball will be important in this one when it comes to field goal attempts. Sophomore kicker Kyle Federico is 4 for 6 on FG attempts for Rutgers including a 48 yarder he posted in week one.
The Eagles have yet to make a field goal this year. They missed two opportunities at PSU caused by a bobbled snap on the first attempt and a miss by sophomore Dylan Mulder from 42 yards.
“When you don’t score when you should score [you’re not] putting pressure on the other team,” English said.
Players to Watch
RU RB Paul James: James will mainly be used as a rushing weapon but he can also be a threat with the ball in the air. He’s averaging 7.5 yards per rushing attempt.
EMU QB Tyler Benz: If wide receivers sophomore Jay Jones and junior Demarius Reed can get open and give Benz options other than Russell, he can be successful. He’ll also need to rely on his offensive line (five sacks allowed) for time and protection.
Follow Derrick Vergolini on Twitter @derrickvergo.