The nightmare of a winless conference record is a possibility as Eastern Michigan University (1-8, 0-5 Mid-American Conference) comes down to its final three games of the season.
“You’ve got to have good frontline players and you’ve got to have depth,” EMU coach Ron English said in the MAC Teleconference Monday. “Right now, I don’t think we have those things and I think that we’re behind other schools a little bit.”
After losing its last two road games and being outscored 114-36, EMU returns to Rynearson Stadium to face the Western Michigan University Broncos (1-8, 1-4 MAC) for a 1 p.m. kickoff. It will be the season’s first of the three-game series among EMU, WMU, and Central Michigan University, where the Eagles are the defending MAC Michigan Trophy champions.
“It’s an instate rivalry, which I think equals the playing field,” WMU coach P.J. Fleck said in the MAC Teleconference. “We’re two similar teams hungry for a win.”
EMU is hoping junior starting running back Bronson Hill will be ready to perform, since he sat on the sidelines in last week’s 55-16 loss to University of Toledo.
“He [needs to] understand that when you have that kind of ability there are great expectations, and I think he should embrace that more,” English said.
If Hill is a no-go this week, junior Ryan Brumfield and senior Javonti Greene will likely share time rushing. They combined for 87 yards on 23 carries in last week’s 55-16 loss at University of Toledo.
As it was coming into last week, the quarterback situation for the Eagles will be something to look forward to as redshirt junior Tyler Benz was relieved by freshman Brogan Roback four drives into the first quarter. Roback threw 11-for-22 for 209 yards and his first two TD’s of the season alongside an interception on his second throw of the game.
He has 361 passing yards and has completed 45.5 percent of his passes in five games.
“He has a ways to go in terms of being a complete quarterback,” English said. “He can get there if he just continues to work on his technique.”
Benz has started all but one game, throwing 1,485 passing yards, 10 TD’s and eight picks with a .607 completion percentage.
“Both quarterbacks present issues for our defense, so we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Fleck said.
Coming off a bye week, the Broncos will be starting redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Terrell after senior Tyler Van Tubbergen suffered a shoulder injury Oct. 5 at UT.
Terrell has 986 passing yards and seven touchdowns this season, completing 54.3 percent of his passes.
WMU’s main passing target is true freshman Corey Davis, who is third in the MAC with 95.1 reception yards per game. He has five touchdown receptions, including two he caught two weeks ago in the team’s 31-30 win over the University of Massachusetts.
The Broncos aren’t notorious for their ball running, averaging 113 per game (12th in the MAC). Senior backs Brian Fields and Dareyon Chance have led the rushing game, while Chance leads with 108 carries for 508 yards and a touchdown and Fields is close behind with 111 touches for 463 yards and four TD’s.
Opening Line: Western Michigan (-3.0)
WMU leads the all-time series with a 25-11-1 record, dating to 1975.
The Eagles are in the midst of a two-game winning streak, looking to tie for its longest winning streak against the Broncos was set from 1989-91.
The Broncos have won 12 of the last 16 meetings.
EMU is 6-9-1 against the Broncos at Rynearson Stadium.
Keys to the Game
Defensive issues for both teams
The problem with EMU all year long has been its run defense, which is ranked 122 of 123 among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing yards per game with 265.0. The passing ranks eleventh in the MAC, but the defense as a whole is dead last in the conference.
The Broncos aren’t far in front of EMU’s rushing defense being ranked at 117, allowing 243.3 a game. There has been slight improvement however, as the team has let up less than 300 yards on the ground in its last two games.
The Eagles and Broncos are 12th and 13th (second-to-last and last, respectively) in the conference, respectively in the category.
With a eight margin, EMU’s main problem has been interceptions as it has ten this season. The Broncos have a margin of -12 with interceptions being a concern at 16. Given their defensive situations, it will be interesting to see how turnovers pan out throughout the game.
Players to Watch
WMU Fr. QB Zach Terrell: Before the bye, Terrell had his best game of the season in the win at UMass, throwing for 275 yards and four touchdowns, both career-highs.
It’ll be interesting to see how he reacts in the next game after. He had a lot of success that week throwing the ball to Davis, so if the two of them are able to connect, both could have big days.
EMU Jr. RB Bronson Hill: If he plays this week, it will be interesting to see how Hill bounces back after missing his first game of the season.
The MAC’s fifth-best rusher will also be seeking redemption for his performance of 65 yards on ten carries he had two weeks ago in the team’s loss at Northern Illinois University.
In the two games prior, he rushed for 400 yards and two touchowns on 43 carries with an additional six catches for 93 yards and a TD.
Follow Derrick Vergolini on Twitter @derrickvergo.