Five things to take away from Eastern Michigan’s 36-14 loss to the University of Massachusetts.
Reggie Bell started at quarterback for the Eagles, following his career day against the University at Buffalo last Saturday. He was 10-of-21 for 147 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Bell was also the leading rusher for Eastern, carrying 21 times for 40 yards.
Despite the score, I think he had a good day.
His interception came because of a bad read while he was throwing to tight end Tyreese Russell – who caught the first touchdown for the Eagles on the previous drive. The thing to remember is that Bell is a redshirt freshman – he’s still learning how to play college ball. I don’t know that we’ll see many more games this year where Bell runs for over 200 yards, but his passing was not that different than it was last week. He’s more confident in the pocket and it’s showing.
Bronson Hill only touched the ball two times – one carry for four yards and a 34-yard touchdown catch while lined up as a wide receiver.
Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton has said in recent weeks that he feels the Eagles have three talented running backs – Hill, Ryan Brumfield (who started against UMass) and Darius Jackson.
Brumfield carried six times for 18 yards, while Jackson rushed three times for 64 yards.
Aside from Bell – the team’s leading rusher for the second straight week – the Eastern run game was nearly inactive again. Jackson busted a 47-yard run in the third quarter, but UMass did a good job holding back the Eastern backs.
Something will have to give next week – and I’ve said this all season. Maybe Northern Illinois – a team that has allowed an average 136.8 yards rushing per game this season – will have few holes for the Eastern backs to exploit.
Owen Dubiel – starting the third consecutive game in place of Austin Barnes (spleen) – punted six times for 285 yards Saturday. He placed one of his punts inside the UMass 20 yard line.
Dubiel has had a good season – which is a red flag when your punter is one of the first people I talk about after a game. He’s punted 24 times for 1013 total yards – an average of 42.2 yards.
I sincerely hope Dubiel is a non-factor next week, but if there’s work for him to do – I’m confident he’ll put the defense in a good spot to start a drive.
The secondary did not respond well to the way it played last week – reverting back to what I’ve been concerned with all season. Willie Creaar played the majority of the first half behind the UMass receivers and as a result, the Minutemen were able to complete big pass play after big pass play. Creaar left in the third quarter with an apparent rib injury, but was a different person when he returned. He recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass late in the game.
That said, I’m still not impressed. Kevin Johnson committed a sloppy defensive pass interference penalty late in the game, while nobody else aside from Jason Beck (two pass breakups) really made an impact.
On the other hand, defensive lineman Pat O’Connor (six assists, 0.5 tackles for loss) and linebacker Great Ibe (21 tackles – 4 solo, 17 assist, 1.5 tackles for loss) had good days again.
O’Connor was also in the face of UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel for a good portion of the game – something you won’t see on an official stat sheet. He’s one of the fastest defensive linemen I’ve ever seen and a player I fully expect to play well for much of the year. Offensive linemen haven’t been able to do much this season to stop him – aside from having a good hold on his jersey.
This team will have to regroup next week. Creighton said after the game that this was the team’s “biggest disappointment of the year”, so now it’s time to put the Eagles’ money where their mouth is. While I give him a lot of credit for changing the culture – which I still think is happening – handling on-field adversity is not something this team has historically done well.
The season is far from over, but the question remains - Is this what we can expect for the next five weeks?
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho