After disappointing loss to UMass, Eagles look to regroup against Northern Illinois
Eastern Michigan football coach Chris Creighton said after Saturday’s 36-14 loss to the University of Massachusetts that the game was his “biggest disappointment of the year” and reiterated that Monday in the team’s weekly press conference.
“It’s a big disappointment,” he said. “We really prepared hard and felt as though we were ready to go against UMass … But honestly one of the takeaways is that we didn’t have the emotion, the energy that is required to play this game.”
Creighton said the accountability for that loss is on his shoulders.
“Ultimately that’s my responsibility to make sure that our team is ready and emotionally at its peak,” he said.
Reggie Bell is expected to start Saturday’s game against Northern Illinois University. He started the game against UMass – a week removed from his four touchdown (three rushing, one passing) performance against the University at Buffalo.
Bell was 10-of-21 for 147 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“Every snap, I think he is getting better,” offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said. “He’s learning … he makes a ton of plays for us, he’s got the ability and he’s going to be good. He’s going to be a good one for us. I’m excited when he’s out there because I think good things are going to happen.”
Northern Illinois (5-2, 2-1 Mid-American Conference) has its own dual-threat quarterback – Drew Hare. He was 12-of-16 for 185 yards and a touchdown in the air, and rushed for 180 yards on 17 carries for another two scores in Saturday’s 51-41 win over Miami University-Ohio.
"He is definitely more experienced and more confident going into each game every week,” NIU offensive lineman Ryan Brown said during the Huskies’ weekly news conference Monday. “Just getting playing time and real life action changes how good of a player he can become. He's more comfortable back there and he's making his reads and he knows what he has to do. He's definitely getting better week by week. We always knew he was a great player it just took some time for him to get comfortable and get used to the flow of the game."
Getting the run game going
For the second straight week, Bell was the Eastern (2-5, 1-2 MAC) rushing offense. He rushed 21 times for 40 yards.
Darius Jackson (three carries, 64 yards) and Ryan Brumfield (six carries, 21 yards) figured in the attack – but essentially absent in the backfield again was Bronson Hill (one carry, four yards).
Hill did have a 32-yard touchdown catch – but he was lined up as a slot receiver at the time. All season, Creighton has said that he feels there are three strong players at that position, but not all three have produced consistently at the same time.
Northern Illinois currently has the eighth-ranked rush defense in the MAC – allowing 178 yards per game. If there’s a good time for Hill & co. to break out and have a good day, this is it.
Adjusting on defense
While Northern Illinois struggles with allowing yards on the ground, they have no problem gaining them. The Huskies are currently second in the MAC (241.3 yards per game) in rushing offense. In the air, NIU is 12th with 218.7 yards per game.
“They are big and physical up front,” defensive coordinator Brad McCaslin said. “They’re a veteran group. They seem to operate with a lot of confidence, poise – they believe in what they’re doing.”
Inside linebacker Great Ibe led the Eastern defense Saturday with 21 tackles. He, along with defensive lineman Pat O’Connor and linebacker Anthony Zappone will be key to stopping the NIU run game.
Linebacker Ike Spearman is still a long way from returning to the lineup, but did take a step forward in rehabbing a severe off-season knee injury.
“He’s jogging some, but he’s not going to be practicing as far as we know at this point,” Creighton said. “But he is taking steps forward.”
Quarterback Brogan Roback (broken bones in face) has been practicing, but has not yet been cleared for game action.
“I think it’s pretty close to time for him to be cleared,” Creighton said.
Tight end Cole Gardiner (undisclosed) missed Saturday’s game and is expected to be limited in practice this week. His status for this week’s game was unclear.
“He’s better off now than he was last week,” Creighton said.
Other news and notes
The first 150 students to arrive for Saturday’s game will receive an EMU hard hat, according to a tweet from Director of Football Operations Jacob Kirkendall.
The athletic department also announced that the Nov. 1 game against Central Michigan University would kick-off at 1 p.m.
The MAC announced Monday a deal with the Quick Lane Bowl (Big Ten vs. Atlantic Coast Conference) - held at Ford Field in Detroit - to serve as the backup to either participating conference. The deal is reported to be for six years. The Quick Lane Bowl will be played on Dec. 26 at 4:30 p.m.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho