With Eastern Michigan University (1-7, 0-4 Mid-American Conference) losing its seventh straight game last week, maybe a little bit of quarterback controversy can bring some excitement to fans headed into this week.
Coach Ron English gave true freshman Brogan Roback his first start under center in a 59-20 loss at Northern Illinois University last week, creating uncertainty as to who will start this week at the University of Toledo (5-3, 3-1 MAC).
“I’m not sure yet about who’s going to start,” English said in the MAC Teleconference on Monday.
Prior to last week, redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Benz got the starting nod for each game this season. Benz was brought in the game in the second quarter while he and Roback were used back and forth between offensive drives.
“I thought Tyler’s attitude was awesome,” English said. “He didn’t change his attitude or preparation. I think it was good for both of them to play.”
Benz is eighth in the MAC in passing yards with 1467. He has 10 touchdown passes and eight interceptions, while he went 6-for-15 with 64 yards and a TD last week.
Roback went 7-for-17 with 109 yards in his start last week. He has completed 42.4 percent of his passes this season.
“He’s got some arm strength to make some throws,” English said. “There’s no question in my mind that he can and should be a tremendous quarterback in this league.”
As far as the running game goes, EMU mixed its running backs around last week, making it interesting to see how the run game is approached at UT.
Senior running back Javonti Greene led the Eagles in rushing for the first time this season with 17 touches for 66 yards. Starter junior Bronson Hill had a season-low of 10 carries and went for 65 yards.
“The biggest thing offensively that they do is their ability to run the football,” UT Coach Matt Campbell said in the MAC Teleconference.
Hill has been the Eagles leading rusher this season with 817 yards, ranking him fifth in the MAC, along with four touchdowns. He had a field day against UT last year, rushing a career-best 283 yards on 28 carries and four TD’s.
“[He’s] outstanding,” Campbell said. “A young man that really had a tremendous game against us last year [and] was dynamic. He’s the ringleader of that whole thing. He plays with such effort and such energy and emotion.”
The Rockets also have a weapon on the ground in senior David Fluellen, who has 1067 rushing yards, good enough to lead the MAC. He averages 133.4 yards per game with 10 rushing TD’s this season.
Fluellen’s playing status for this Saturday at the Glass Bowl is questionable, as he left the game last week with a leg injury. The Toledo Blade reported that he will play if he is able to.
If he is unable to suit up, the Rockets may need to rely on the passing game, which is led by senior quarterback Terrance Owens.
Owens helped lead UT to a come-from-behind victory last week at Bowling Green State University with three TD passes, including an 11-yard TD with 1:22 left in the game to give the Rockets a 28-25 lead and victory.
Owens has 1234 passing yards with eight TD’s and six interceptions while completing 60.8 percent of his passes.
The game can be seen on ESPN3 at 7 p.m. this Saturday.
UT leads the all-time series between the teams with a 26-10 record, dating back to 1977.
The Rockets are seeking their seventh straight win against EMU, which would be the longest win streak against the Eagles in program history.
UT has won 12 of the last 13 games.
EMU’s last win was Oct. 21, 2006, when a touchdown with 36 seconds left in the game led to a 17-13 victory at Rynearson Stadium.
Keys to the Game:
Fluellen’s Health and EMU’s run defense
The Eagles rushing defense is third-worst in the FBS, giving up 256.4 yards on the ground per game. It also has allowed 31 rushing touchdowns in 8 games.
If Fluellen is healthy enough to play without limitation, there is a chance that he may just walk all over this EMU defense, as he’s capable of putting up 200 rushing yards like he did against Western Michigan University.
If Fluellen is limited with his playing time or is even ruled out, the Eagles’ defense stands a better chance of being successful.
Players to Watch
Saturday may be a game of “My Russell is better than yours”.
EMU Jr. TE Tyreese Russell: Russell has been getting more targets in the past couple of weeks, with a TD reception in each of his last two games. He had a career-best 90 yards receiving last week.
After a period of smaller numbers of targets that started against Ball State University, he’s now starting to get the deep ball more.
UT Soph. WR Alonzo Russell: Although he had just 56 reception yards last week, he had eight catches which was his second-most in a game this season. His two TD catches helped the Rockets in the comeback victory over BGSU, including the game-winner in the fourth quarter. Look for Owens to target Russell more, as he did last week.
Russell is second on his team with 470 reception yards and leads the Rockets with five TD catches.
Follow Derrick Vergolini on Twitter @derrickvergo.