Eagles look to start second half of the season where first half left off

Eastern Michigan running back Darius Jackson runs the ball in EMU's 37-27 victory over Buffalo Saturday in Ypsilanti.

Eastern Michigan football coach Chris Creighton and his team will be looking to continue the positive momentum from Saturday’s 37-27 win over the University at Buffalo when the second half of the season starts Saturday at the University of Massachusetts.

“Every week there’s a challenge,” Creighton said Monday in the team’s weekly news conference at the Convocation Center. “As excited as the guys were on Saturday, I’m anticipating them turning all of that excitement into hunger. Anything less, we’re going to have to redirect. When you have a taste of what it can be like and what you’ve believed is possible became a reality, I think our guys are going to want more.”

Eastern (2-4, 1-1 Mid-American Conference) will be playing a UMass team (1-6, 1-2 MAC) that has scored at least 40 points in its last four of its last five games – most recently a 40-17 victory over Kent State University.

Saturday’s win was the first for the Minutemen in nearly a year (17-10 vs. Miami-OH on Oct. 12, 2013), while the Eagles snapped a four-game losing streak with the win over the Bulls.

Starting quarterback

Rob Bolden started against Buffalo, going 2-of-5 for three yards. He also rushed five times for 25 yards.

Reggie Bell replaced him on the last series before halftime – and had a career day. Bell rushed for 202 yards on 17 carries – scoring three rushing touchdowns. He also passed for 144 yards and threw a touchdown to David Gibson.

Who will start against UMass?

“The initials are going to have an R and a B in there – I know that much so far,” Creighton joked.

He implied that given his strong performance Saturday, Bell would likely be the starter against UMass. As of Wedesday evening, he was listed as the starting quarterback according to the depth chart on a release issued by the athletic department.

Blake Frohnapfel will be the starter for the Minutemen. He has started all seven of the team’s games this season, going 157-of-286 for 2,146 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Frohnapfel was 23-of-38 for 286 yards and three touchdowns against Miami.

Containing the Minutemen

The Eastern defense – specifically the linebackers and defensive linemen – will be key to putting pressure on Frohnapfel.

Defensive lineman Pat O’Connor and inside linebacker Anthony Zappone – who earned MAC West Defensive Player of the Week honors – are the top two players at their respective positions.

“He [Zappone] is aggressive,” McCaslin said. “If he believes he’s going somewhere, he’s going to get there.”

Zappone has been flagged for targeting in each of the last two games, but has had the penalty erased after a review from the officials.

“I think that kind of hit right now is going to draw the attention of [the referees],” McCaslin said. “I’m sure that in those rooms with those officials they say ‘Let’s throw it because we can review it and get it right as opposed to not throwing it and having to deal with what comes with that.’ I think it’s more coincidence that it was Zappone both times. I mean, he’s going to light you up – there’s a reason he had the hammer coming out to start the game – he’s a physical kid.”

The secondary will need to continue its positive momentum to stop UMass. The Minutemen have gained 2,860 yards of total offense this season – 2,146 in the air.

Jason Beck and Kevin Johnson each had an interception for Eastern, Saturday and the secondary as a whole did a better job playing on the ball, breaking up a crucial pass in the endzone in the third quarter.

Bringing in the hardware

In addition to Zappone’s defensive recognition, Bell earned a few awards for his play. He was named MAC West Co-Offensive Player of the Week, a Manning Award Star of the Week, the National Performer of the Week as well as Quarterback Performer of the Week by the College Football Performer Awards and the Eastern Echo Eagle of the Week.

“Individual awards come with team success,” Creighton said. “Hopefully the MAC isn’t just saying ‘Hey, they got a win. Here’s our chance to honor a couple of their guys.’ That’s probably one of my first thoughts is that there’s probably great performances during the week and here’s a chance to honor a team that hasn’t had much success.”

He added: “It’s a team award, and we’re really not interested in getting awards right now… We’re interested in trying to get better.”

Continuing offensive momentum

Bell’s 344 total yards accounted for 71 percent of Eastern’s total offense (484 yards) against Buffalo.

Ryan Brumfield rushed 16 times for 62 yards and a touchdown while Gibson had the only receiving touchdown for Eastern. Eight different players had catches for the Eagles.

“We executed on Saturday and that’s the difference,” offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said. “If we’d have executed in some other games as well as we did on Saturday, I think you’d have seen some more production.”

Looking Ahead

Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The game will be carried live on WEMU 89.1 FM and ESPN 3.

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Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho

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