The Eastern Michigan University football team fell to Old Dominion University, Saturday, 17-3. Here are the five biggest takeaways from the game.
The special teams unit was both the best and worst part of Eastern’s game, Saturday.
Junior Dylan Mulder scored the team’s only points – a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, ensuring that the Eagles would not be shut out for a second straight week.
The punt game was a two-sided sword. The Eagles punted the ball away 10 times – five for sophomore Austin Barnes and five for redshirt senior Owen Dubiel. The two combined to pin the Monarchs inside their 20-yard line six times (Dubiel – 4, Barnes – 2).
When ODU was able to return the punts, the job fell to Antonio Vaughan. He had two returns for 70 yards and a touchdown (46 yards in the fourth quarter). He returned another punt in the third quarter for a 51-yard touchdown, but it was called back on a holding call.
For Eastern, senior receiver Tyler Allen and redshirt sophomore running back Juwan Lewis again split the kick return duties – if you can call it splitting. They each returned one kick in the contest. Allen took his for 34 yards, while Lewis took his 17.
Against MSU, I think the unit which will see the most time on the field will be the special teams unit. The Eagles can’t expect to be competitive if they allow Michigan State University returner R.J. Shelton – who returned five kicks for 121 yards in MSU’s 46-27 loss to the University of Oregon – to run all over them next week.
The passing game
On Saturday, EMU coach Chris Creighton made the decision I called for last week – he started sophomore Brogan Roback at quarterback. The only problem is Roback didn’t produce.
Roback went 9-of-17 for 56 yards. The plus is that he didn’t throw an interception, but he did fumble the ball twice – Eastern got the ball back on one, while Old Dominion recovered the second.
Redshirt senior Rob Bolden replaced Roback late, in what Creighton said after the game was an attempt to jump start the offense. Bolden was 3-of-7 for 16 yards and no interceptions. He did, however, fumble the ball two more times.
When the Eagles did get some good passing opportunities – which did happen, they missed open receivers or overthrew them.
Allen was open in the end zone late in the first half – Roback air mailed a pass over his head. Redshirt senior offensive lineman Robert McFadden lined up in the slot with Roback in the shotgun – he was wide open when Roback threw a screen pass in the first half to Ryan Brumfield for a loss of eight yards. The receivers are partially responsible for some of these issues, too – I’ll get to that a little later.
Saturday was a rough day for the passing game – it rained for most of the game, which does count for some of the issues holding on to the ball, but if they don’t find a way to keep it against Michigan State, the Eagle defense is going to have a very busy day on the field.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota passed for 318 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-28 passing against MSU – granted he does play for one of the top programs in the PAC-12 and it is a far cry from the offense EMU brings to bear on a weekly basis – but this does show that the Spartan defense does have the potential to give up some passing yards. Whoever starts – be it Roback or Bell, or even Bolden – has to be able to find a way to get the ball down the field.
The run game
Running the ball was the most important factor going in to the game Saturday. With the rain falling and knowing that the passing game would likely be ineffective, senior Bronson Hill and company needed to step up and control the offense.
Hill responded by carrying the ball 16 times for 78 yards – a respectable statistic. Bolden, who entered the game late, had 12 rushes for 31 yards.
In total, the Eagles carried the ball 48 times for 143 yards, much more than the 72 total yards gained in the air.
The only problem I have is that the Eagles couldn’t find the end zone – and haven’t since the season opener two weeks ago. Michigan State will not be any easier on the run – four Oregon players combined to rush the ball 40 times for 203 yards and three touchdowns. Michigan State will almost certainly adjust the way it plays to the run, and again – Oregon and EMU are two completely different teams with two completely different caliber players. To think that both will play the exact same way is irresponsible.
The EMU defense actually did a good job, despite the final score. The Eagles, after giving up a long touchdown run in the first half – a 55-yard run from Ray Lawry in the first quarter – held the Monarchs to three more points in the game (not counting special teams).
More impressive are the two goal line stands from the Eastern defense – one resulted in a turnover on fourth down and the other was a field goal on the drive immediately after ODU’s 51-yard punt return for touchdown was called back.
For a team that saw two major parts of its play regress over the last two weeks, the defense has actually improved after giving up 65 points to the University of Florida last week and big plays to both Florida and Morgan State University two weeks ago.
This is the part of the team that I’ll be watching very closely next week in East Lansing. The Spartans gained 466 yards of total offense in the loss to Oregon. That combined with the off-week the Spartans had this week should make them a very focused team, with a week of rest. I’ll be very interested to see what defensive coordinator Brad McCaslin and his players have to offer next week.
An important part of any team bouncing back from a loss is how the coaches handle it. Even if a positional player or unit doesn’t perform well, the first (and last) people to be held accountable are the coaching staff.
Last week, McCaslin impressed me by taking responsibility for the play call which resulted in a long touchdown early in the game against Florida. This week, it was Creighton who wowed me.
“I need to do better,” he said after the game.
Here is a coach who not only preaches accountability, but he actively practices it, too.
Even if the Eagles shock the state by going to East Lansing and doing what they nearly did two years ago – upset State on the road – I know that any improvement this team makes before conference play starts in two weeks will come in large part because the coaching staff will hold itself accountable for what happens – and that starts at the top.
I haven’t had that confidence in two years. It’s comforting.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho
Al Willman can be heard every week on the Eastern Echo Sports Podcast. Search for the podcast on SoundCloud or iTunes – “Echo Sports Podcast”. You can also follow the podcast on Twitter: @ESportsPodcast and by liking “The Eastern Echo Sports Podcast” on Facebook.