Eastern Michigan University football fell on the road to Northern Illinois University, 49-21 Saturday in DeKalb, Ill. Five thing we learned from the Eagles loss including updates on Reggie Bell, defensive issues and tight-end production.
Reggie Bell injured more than originally thought:
Eastern Michigan quarterback Reggie Bell suffered a minor leg injury last week at Toledo while making his first start in six weeks after breaking his jaw in the season opener. EMU coach Chris Creighton said in his Monday press conference that Bell would be day-to-day and his status for Northern Illinois was in doubt. Those doubting him starting in DeKalb were correct, as backup Brogan Roback started in his place despite Bell being dressed for the game and taking part in warm-ups.
“Reggie wasn’t healthy,” Creighton said following the game. “He got better every day. Could’ve played, but the practice reps early on weren’t at quality they needed to be. He’s still shaking some rust off, and Brogan had played five games and was playing well, so we made the decision to go with Brogan.”
Roback completed 26-of-43 passes for 219 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in Bell’s absence Saturday. It is yet to be determined who will start at quarterback Thursday versus Western Michigan University.
Defense inability to get off the field:
EMU’s defense has struggled in many aspects this season, but one that has really hurt is the inability to get off the field on third and fourth downs. Northern Illinois converted 15-of-23 third down attempts and converted its only fourth down attempt in the game.
“It always comes down to execution,” Creighton said. “There’s times when our defense played well, but obviously Northern Illinois played better than we did, and third downs had a lot to do with that.”
NIU converted nine of its third down attempts in the first half, leading to the 35-0 Huskies lead at halftime.
Tight ends are still producing:
After a slow start to the season, both transfer tight ends Cody Tuttle and Sam Browning have been the model of consistency over the past few weeks.
Tuttle caught four passes for 44 yards Saturday to run his season total to 25 catches for 226 yards while Browning had one catch for 19 yards, giving him 14 receptions for 216 yards and two touchdowns on the season.
In the last four games, including Saturday at Northern Illinois, the pair have caught 31 passes for 352 yards and a touchdown combined and have become favorite targets of both Reggie Bell and Brogan Roback.
Austin Barnes is back at punting and performing:
Austin Barnes returned to the field Saturday after a mysterious hiatus the last two weeks and did his part in helping the Eagles in the field position game. Barnes punted seven times in the game for a net of 304 yards, good for a 43-yard average, and was able to down three punts inside the opponents 20 yard-line.
Placekicker Dylan Mulder took over as the punter in the last two games, and netted 259 yards on seven kicks, good for a 37-yard average.
There has been no word on why Barnes was absence as of yet.
Slow starts are hurting the team’s chances:
In the first three games of the season, EMU has held double-digit lead but fell to a 1-2 record. Since then, the Eagles have struggled in the first-half, leading to being down by double-digits at halftime in four of the last five games, including a 35-0 halftime score today.
The halftime scores read as: down 29-17 to Army, down 40-14 to Akron, down 28-6 to Toledo, and down 35-0 to Northern Illinois. The other game, EMU only had a three point deficit at halftime in LSU, only down 17-14.
The Eagles cannot expect to win if it continues to start slow and have such large halftime deficits to overcome. Offense has been able to score points this season, but many of the points scored in the last five weeks came in the second half while already being well behind the opponent.
The offense needs to get back form based on the first three weeks and score as early and often as possible, while aiding the defense by keeping them off the field. And the defense has struggled mightily to find any success in either half and must be able to get an occasional stop to give the possession back to the offense.