After six weeks of college football, Eastern Michigan University and Army are coming close to desperation mode for ending the regular season with a winning record.
Army (2-4) almost overcame that feat in 2010 when it earned a 6-6 record and reached a bowl game in the process, but it’s been 17 years since a 10-2 season in 1996, when the Black Knights finished ranked No. 25 in the AP.
As for EMU (1-4, 0-2 Mid-American Conference), 1995 was its last winning season at 6-5.
The teams’ meeting on Saturday at Michie Stadium will be their fifth in the last six seasons. The Eagles beat the Black Knights for the first time last season 48-38 for a 1-4 record against Army all-time.
Currently in the midst of a four-game skid, the Eagles will look to use their last non-conference game of the 2013 season to halt that streak. But accomplishing that against another team with a losing record won’t be such an easy task.
“This will be our hardest week,” head coach Ron English said in the MAC’s weekly teleconference. “We’ll see what kind of character the team has.”
EMU has been outscored 93-34 in its last two losses against University at Buffalo and Ball State University, which have further exposed problems with English’s defense.
The Eagles allowed 995 total yards in those two games as well as nine rushing touchdowns. The defense has also allowed the most rushing TD’s in the Mid-American Conference with 19 and has allowed 212.6 rushing yards per game (16th-worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision).
“[As a coach] you’re dealing with a team that hasn’t had a lot of success, so confidence is a factor,” English said.
And EMU will be up against an offensive-style that it hasn’t seen yet this season.
Army sports a triple option offense that has allowed it to be ranked fourth in the FBS in rushing yards per game, with 325.5. The Black Knights have thrown the ball 70 times for 429 yards this season.
The Black Knights’ main three rushers are junior quarterback Angel Santiago and junior running backs Terry Baggett and Larry Dixon.
Santiago leads his team with 90 carries and has rushed 366 yards for four touchdowns. He’s also thrown two TD’s and is 16-for-39 passing.
Dixon and Baggett split carries equally (59), but Dixon is the lead rusher with five touchdowns. Baggett has ran for two.
“The reprieve of [those kids’] day is football,” English said. “They’ll play their hearts out on Saturday.”
Army has three other players that have over 20 touches this season in Trenton Turrentine, Hayden Tippett and Raymond Maples. They have combined for 479 rushing yards.
The Eagles will have junior quarterback Tyler Benz under center, who has a completion percentage of .643, and has thrown five touchdowns and five interceptions on the season.
Junior running back Bronson Hill leads EMU in the backfield with 352 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. The other junior running back, Ryan Brumfield, will likely see more time running the ball as he’s showed potential last week, with a 75-yard touchdown run against Buffalo.
The game this Saturday was at risk of being cancelled due to the government shutdown and the fact that Army football, like other military academy programs, is supported by the government.
“I would hope that all three service academies get to play all of the games for the remainder of the season,” English said. “Those guys deserve to play. They put a lot of time and effort in.”
Keys to the Game:
Army running the ball: With Army, being a running team, going up against an Eagles’ defense that has been struggling, especially with the run, expect them to run the triple option for most of the game. EMU hasn’t gone up against a team that has been proficient with the option since they played Army last season. It will be a good measuring stick.
Benz’s arm: Tyler Benz has seemingly been throwing less and less in the last three games and EMU has been losing by larger margins. He threw 40 passes at Rutgers University in week three and attempted 19 last week. It’s not necessarily a fix for the entire season, but more passing could be something that keeps the offense alive and the team in the game longer.
Players to Watch:
Army junior QB Angel Santiago: Option quarterbacks are always exciting to watch, and Santiago is no exception. Although he isn’t the leading rusher on the team, still keep an eye out for him. He’s coming off of a cold week last week at Boston College, with only 18 rushing yards, so he’ll be looking to bounce back.
EMU junior RB Ryan Brumfield: Technically the third-string back for the Eagles, Brumfield hasn’t seen as much playing time as Hill. However, he’s seemed to be proving his explosiveness the past couple of weeks.
He rushed in his first touchdown of the season when he got the opportunity to see more snaps when Hill was temporarily sidelined with a wrist injury and Darius Jackson had fumbled twice against BSU. Last week he carried one up the middle for a 75-yard TD run in a game where he only got two touches. Look for English to use him more.
Follow Derrick Vergolini on Twitter @derrickvergo.