After starting the competition for the Michigan MAC Trophy with a 38-7 loss to Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton and his team are setting their sights on Saturday’s matchup against Western Michigan in Kalamazoo.
Saturday’s game comes on the heels of the second bye week of the season for the Eagles (2-7, 1-4 Mid-American Conference).
“You know if it was a good bye week after you play the game,” Creighton said at the team’s weekly news conference Monday morning at the Convocation Center. “It came at a good time. Honestly [we’re] licking our wounds a little bit from the Central Michigan game. We didn’t see that coming.”
Creighton reiterated his disappointment – what he called regret after the loss – with the way his team played against CMU.
“I honestly was underwhelmed with our team’s energy or passion for the rivalry,” Creighton said. “I’m hoping to see it change this week for the Western piece of the rivalry.”
The game is equally as important for the Broncos (6-3, 4-1 MAC) – who are coming off a bye week of their own.
“This is the biggest game of the year for us,” WMU coach P.J. Fleck said in the MAC weekly teleconference Monday morning. “This is our National Championship, this is our Super Bowl, this is our conference championship. Why? Because it’s the next one. And then you throw the rivalry in there and then defeating us the last three years – that’s motivation enough to get going.”
Creighton said he wants to see his team finish – a goal he and his coaches set back in January when they took the reins of a program fresh off a two-win season in 2013.
“I’m excited about the challenge,” he said.
Fleck said he sees a challenge, too. The Eagles have defeated WMU each of the last three seasons.
“I think the biggest challenge is that they’ve kicked our butt the last three years,” he said.
Reggie Bell (concussion) was removed from the loss two weeks ago and replaced by Rob Bolden.
Bolden finished the day 7-of-19 passing for 76 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
“He’s [Bell] still going through the protocol,” Creighton said. “We don’t have a definitive answer. We’re hopeful. Brogan’s been cleared so we hope that we have all three quarterbacks healthy for the first time in I think seven weeks or whatnot.”
As of Tuesday, there was no official word as to whether or not Bell would be cleared to play Saturday. Creighton said he would start if cleared.
“He’s a football player,” offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said. “He just loves to play the game and once he gets out there I don’t think he’ll think anything of it.”
Zach Terrell will start for Western. He was 18-of-23 for 217 yards and a touchdown in his team’s 41-10 win over Miami University-Ohio two weeks ago.
Reining in the Broncos
Jarvion Franklin is the key to Western’s offense. He rushed 29 times for 182 yards and three touchdowns in WMU’s win over Miami.
He has 242 carries for 1,330 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.
“He’s a big challenge, he’s a big kid,” EMU defensive coordinator Brad McCaslin said. “He runs hard, he has good speed. He’s proven that he can run away from some people and they’ll keep giving him the ball.”
A team effort
Western has gained 1,955 yards rushing on the ground (198.3 per game), while allowing 1,550 (151 per game). In the air, the Broncos have 2,329 yards while giving up 2,062.
Western has scored a total of 40 TDs (25 rushing, 15 passing). Its opponents have scored 26 (12 rushing, 14 passing).
“I think they play a good team game between their offense and their defense,” DeBoer said. “It seems like when they get you down, they turn up the heat even more and really force you to have to make some plays.”
He said the Eagles have to come out swinging against WMU.
“We’ve got to match that,” DeBoer said. “We’ve got to bring some intensity. We’ve got to start fast. We’ve been good at that at times throughout the year – obviously the last game against Central we struggled with that. It was a consistent theme throughout the game, not just the beginning.”
Creighton said he wants to see more of a team effort from the Eagles.
“You need to always be in the present and always building towards the future,” Creighton said. I think you can do that simultaneously and I think you can do that right. I think that you can neglect it either way as well. We want to strike that perfect balance of doing everything we can to keep closing the gap, keep getting better – to be successful each of these last three games.”
Fleck said the Eagles are more than what their record says they are.
“Don’t look at their record – that doesn’t reflect how hard they play.”
Where to catch the game
Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN3 and heard on WEMU 89.1 FM.
Other news and notes
The EMU athletic department announced Monday that kickoff for the Nov. 22 game at Ball State University was scheduled for 2 p.m. The game will also be televised on ESPN3.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho