The Eastern Michigan University football team’s 18th consecutive season without a winning record kept the bad taste in the fans’ mouths.
Finishing fifth in the Mid-American Conference West with a 1-7 record, it was the squad’s third 2-10 season in the last four years. But what made this season’s disappointment different from the rest was the adversity the team faced.
On the morning of Friday, Oct. 18, wide receiver Demarius Reed was found shot to death in his residence at University Green Apartments.
Three weeks later, Ron English was given the boot after an audiotape of him losing it in the locker room was released to athletic director Heather Lyke.
“These kids have had to endure a season like no other season,” interim coach Stan Parrish said in a MAC teleconference last Monday.
While both of these unfortunate events were crashing down on EMU football, the team was in the middle of an eight-game losing streak. But less than 36 hours after Parrish was named the interim coach, that ended with a 35-32 win over Western Michigan in overtime with a thrilling last-minute two-point conversion to tie the game.
“You’ve got to give them all the credit in the world,” WMU coach P.J. Fleck said in the MAC teleconference the Monday after losing to EMU. “With all the adversity that Eastern Michigan has faced all year with losing their coach and losing a wonderful teammate.”
Even being a 2-9 football team going into the season-finale, EMU still had something to play for at Central Michigan University – a third straight Michigan MAC Championship. Yet, that goal was vaporized when the Chippewas scored 42 points in a dominating win over the Eagles to end their season.
Sunrays peek through the clouds
Someone needed to be the hands of the receiving corps to take the role that Reed was supposed to carry for his team.
That man was sophomore Dustin Creel.
Although his 593 yards were barely surpassed by tight end Tyreese Russell, the receiver’s athleticism was an asset to the offense. He caught five touchdowns, two of which he either leaped up vertically or around a defender to snag.
Although the win over WMU wasn’t quarterback Brogan Roback’s best game on paper, it was certainly his most promising. With the true freshman making his first start two weeks prior in place of the junior Tyler Benz, it was one of the first times he showed his ability to take charge and lead an offense downfield during the final moments of the fourth quarter.
The man that carried the offense more times than not was Bronson Hill. Rushing for 1,101 yards with five touchdowns, the junior running back was fifth in the MAC in rushing yards per game with 100.1.
Some off-field issues cut down some of his playing time (he even missed a game at University of Toledo), but that allowed the other junior back Ryan Brumfield to finally break out after showing small signs of impact early in the season. Sure enough, he helped lead the Eagles to the OT victory over the Broncos with 148 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.
It doesn’t matter how good a team’s offense is (even though Eastern Michigan’s wasn’t that good being the 103rd-ranked passing game and 75th-ranked run game in the Football Bowl Subdivision), defense is what makes or breaks a team.
The Eagles had the worst scoring defense in the MAC (45.2 ppg), the worst total defense (510 ypg), the worst fourth-down defense (80.0 opp pct) and the second-worst red zone defense (87.0 pct). Allowing 258.3 yards on the ground per game, EMU was ranked 121 out of 123 FBS teams in rushing defense. It allowed 43 rushing scores.
The closest MAC team was Western Michigan with 30.
Finally, the defense allowed 42 or more points in nine games. In seven of those games they allowed over 500 total yards.
It’s no surprise the head coach that got fired (English) was also the team’s defensive coordinator.
It’s not fair to say that this off-season will be one dedicated to rebuilding because with 17 losing campaigns in the last 18 seasons, shouldn’t have every year been dedicated to that?
The program will however, need to do something it hasn’t done in five years which is hire a new head coach. Lyke said that she would like to have that position filled by Christmas and currently there are a handful names in the mix.
As far as the players go, this year’s defense was young but there is no excuse for putting up horrendous numbers. English said himself that some players struggled with things as simple as tackling, which is understandable if you’re a freshman high school team but not an FBS football program.
While the defense desperately needs a complete makeover, the offense may just be the one thing that can give fans the slightest bit of hope next year. It saw some promising talent here and there – not much, but something is better than nothing.
Follow Derrick Vergolini on Twitter: @DerrickVergo