The Eastern Michigan University football team will be traveling to East Lansing, Mich. to take on Michigan State University, Saturday.
This will be the first matchup between the Eagles and the Spartans since Sept. 22, 2012. Eastern lost 23-7.
EMU will be entering the game as a 45 point underdog.
“This week – massive respect for a program that again you can tell really believes in themselves and are confident, they’re well coached, they’re disciplined – they have an aura about them and you respect that because that’s the kind of program that you want to build and you want to have,” EMU coach Chris Creighton said. “So we’re definitely excited about the opportunity to continue to improve and to go up there and to play Eastern Michigan football.”
Creighton and his team are looking to rally from two consecutive losses, most recently a 17-3 defeat at the hands of Old Dominion University.
“This Saturday stunk,” Creighton said. “One of the reasons why it stings so much is that our guys never gave in, never gave up all the way to the last seconds on the clock. That’s how to live life, that’s how to play football – you put everything you have into it and when you do it hurts more.”
The Eagles have been improving on defense through the first three games of the season. The team gave up a season-low 367 yards of total offense against the Monarchs. The defense only gave up one touchdown, a 55-yard run by Ray Lawry in the first quarter of Saturday’s loss.
“I really felt as though they [the defense] kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win,” Creighton said.
Things won’t get any easier for Eastern this week. MSU gained 466 yards of total offense two weeks ago in a 46-27 loss to the University of Oregon.
343 of Michigan State’s offensive yards came through the air – a part of the EMU defense that is still struggling.
Connor Cook, State’s starting quarterback, is 41-of-60 for 633 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. On the flip side, Eastern has given up 868 yards of passing this season.
Moving the ball
The EMU offense couldn’t seem to find a rhythm, Saturday. Sophomore Brogan Roback started at quarterback, going 9-of-17 for 56 yards. Redshirt senior Rob Bolden entered the game in the fourth quarter, finishing 3-of-7 for 16 yards.
The run game, still Eastern’s strength, was equally ineffective – senior Bronson Hill carried the ball 16 times for 78 yards, while Bolden had 12 rushes for 31 yards.
“Offensively, we moved the ball at times and just weren’t able to consistently sustain drives that got us into the end zone,” Creighton said. “We’re hard at work to figure that out and really believe in our guys and our system and know that it’s going to happen.”
Michigan State gave up 491 yards in the team’s loss to Oregon on Sept. 9. Marcus Mariota was 17-of-28 in the air for 318 yards. The Ducks ran for 203 yards as a team, led by Royce Freeman’s 13 carries for 91 yards and two touchdowns.
Through two of the team’s first three games, the special teams unit has been the story at the end of the game. A blocked punt for touchdown and a blocked field goal in the Eagles’ 31-28 win over Morgan State University in the season opener on Aug. 31, as well as some good punt placement against Old Dominion were the positives. The overwhelming negative was the play of the punt coverage against ODU.
“It’s twice now that our punt team has given up a big return, but I do want to say that our punt team has been fantastic other than a big return,” Creighton said. “I think we pinned them inside the five or the ten yard line three times. It has just been a huge weapon for us.”
Macgarrett Kings returned the punts for Michigan State against Oregon. In two returns, he gained four yards.
Creighton said the game against State will be a tough one, and that a lot will go into being competitive.
“In order for us to win, we have to play hard, we have to play together as a team and we have to play for 60 minutes,” Creighton said. “And that’s not a guarantee. And then you have to believe that we can win – and every one of us has to. The fewer there are that believe, the more energy it’s going to take and the more success in the game it’s going to take for the non-believers to become believers.”
Redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Andrew Wylie, who left the game early two weeks ago against the University of Florida is day-to-day, but will likely miss this week’s game with a knee injury.
“It doesn’t look good for this week,” Creighton said.
Junior linebacker Ike Spearman, who has not played a game this year will also be out.
“We expect him [Spearman] to be back, but not this week,” Creighton said.
The game will be carried on the Big Ten Network and WEMU 89.1 FM. Kickoff is scheduled for noon.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho