Five things to take away from Eastern Michigan’s 31-6 loss to Akron, Saturday.
The secondary was the biggest problem in Saturday’s loss. For most of the game, the defensive backs gave the Akron receivers a wide cushion – allowing the Zips to gain a total of 355 yards in the air.
“We played multiple coverage today, and you know their quarterback snapped it off pretty well, the receivers did a pretty good job coming back to the ball,” EMU coach Chris Creighton said. “I thought we were there for a lot of plays – it was just a matter of inches.”
The secondary has been one of my concerns for a long time and the way it played negated a strong effort from the rest of the defense. I noticed it, and I’d be willing to bet that defensive coordinator Brad McCaslin noticed it, too. Look for the Eagles to address that in practice this week. Whether or not it changes against the University at Buffalo Bulls next week remains to be seen.
The run game
As a team, the Eagles rushed 37 times for 94 yards, averaging 2.5 yards a carry. Redshirt senior Rob Bolden rushed 15 of those times, for 16 yards. To put it simply, for the second week in a row, senior Bronson Hill and company were ineffectual.
“Akron’s rush defense is the best part of their defense,” Creighton said. “Pitt is a pretty good rushing team and [Akron] stymied their rushing attack. They forced us to throw the ball and we finished 17-for-30. We are not as good throwing the ball as we are running it.”
Buffalo allowed 508 total yards in Saturday’s 36-35 loss to Bowling Green State University. 187 of those yards came on the ground. After two games against quality run defenses, I would expect Eastern to have a better day against Buffalo. Stay tuned.
Eastern’s special teams unit has been a yo-yo this season. It lived up to that against Akron. Sophomore punter Austin Barnes missed the game with what he tweeted was an issue with his spleen, which required him to be hospitalized and may jeopardize his season. In his place, redshirt senior Owen Dubiel assumed full-time punter duties, punting six times for 263 yards – including three inside the 20-yard line. One was downed inside the 10.
Senior receiver Tyler Allen returned six punts for 100 yards, while sophomore receiver Jaleel Canty returned two punts for 52 yards – one which he returned 50 yards from the EMU 24 to the Akron 26.
Junior kicker Dylan Mulder missed his only field goal attempt – a 40-yard attempt into the wind, which came up short.
Mulder’s miss was the only real down for the Eagles, Saturday. I was impressed with the way the rest of the unit played. We’ll see what comes of next week’s matchup.
Bolden started his second consecutive game for Eastern, Saturday. He was 17-of-30 for 189 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
He has now thrown a pick in three of the four games he’s appeared in.
Buffalo allowed 321 yards and a touchdown in the air against Bowling Green. Look for Bolden – who Creighton said would be the starter for the forseeable future – to have a good day against the Bulls if he can play more consistently.
The rest of the defense
If you take the secondary out of the equation, the linebackers and defensive line had a strong day. Redshirt junior linebacker Great Ibe (eight tackles) and redshirt sophomore linebacker Anthony Zappone (six tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack) were playmakers against Akron.
“I think Zappone’s a great football player,” Creighton said. “I think he’s a leader in our program and going to become more than that. He’s played both outside linebacker and inside linebacker – we’ve thrown a lot at him. He’s got a great passion about him and I’m sure glad he’s on our team.”
Junior defensive end Pat O’Connor also made two tackles (one for loss) and a sack, Saturday. He made a big play, forcing an Akron player out of bounds after chasing him for 30 yards. O’Connor is legitimately the fastest defensive lineman I’ve ever seen.
If the secondary can play better against Buffalo, watch out for the defense. Its speed and toughness at the first two levels will give Bulls quarterback Joe Licata a run for his money next week. If the secondary doesn’t improve, Licata will make it a long day for them. He was 16-of-24 for 134 yards, one touchdown and one interception against Bowling Green.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho