For more perspective on the Eastern Michigan – Michigan football game,
welcome Andy Reid, managing sports editor of U-M’s student newspaper,
The Michigan Daily. We’ll be doing an e-mail exchange leading up to Saturday, and it’ll all be posted here on Eagles’ Landing.
Part 1 (Souva):
It isn’t a secret that Eastern Michigan hasn’t fared well against its
cross-town foe, in fact its gone 0-8 against Michigan. Will this year
be different? Probably not. But there’s always the possibility, just
ask Toledo. Eastern will have to play a flawless game, though, i.e.
create turnovers, commit no turnovers or penalties of its own, and so
on. A little luck wouldn’t hurt, either.
Andy, do you think this will be another rout or is there a chance EMU
can pull the upset? (U-M is favored by 23) What’s EMU going to have to
do to win or U-M going to have to mess up to lose? Is there a feeling
U-M is looking past EMU and ahead to its following week’s Big Ten
opener against Indiana or does Rich Rodriguez have his team focused on the
task at hand? And who are some players to look out for, aside from
the more prevalent players like Tate Forcier?
Part 2 (Reid):
One thing’s for sure — Michigan doesn’t have too much to look forward to next week, as Indiana is easily the worst team in the Big Ten. If anything, the Wolverines will be more focused on this game than usual, because, as you know, the Eagles surprised Northwestern last week with a narrow loss. And, of course, there is the issue of new Eastern Michigan coach Ron English, who recruited a few of the Michigan defenders while he was the defensive coordinator in Ann Arbor.
Said junior safety Troy Woolfolk, “(I want to) show him that he recruited me for a reason, so I’m going to try and go hard against him.”
If there is a chance for Eastern to win — or even pull out a close game — it will be because of Michigan’s faults, not the Eagles’ strengths. Although the Wolverines are a talented bunch this season, they’re young in some key areas and have depth concerns, especially in the secondary. With freshmen at quarterback, defensive end and a slew of youngsters sitting at No. 2 on the depth chart, a let-down after such an emotional win last week is a definite possibility. I would say the Eagles’ best chance to win the game is to challenge a paper-thin secondary, but they’re only averaging 165 yards per game in that category.
Some under-the-radar guys to look out for are Junior Hemingway, who caught long two touchdown passes against Western Michigan, and Kelvin Grady, a basketball-player-turned-slot-receiver who is just waiting for a breakout game. Also, be on the look-out for pint-sized freshman running back Vincent Smith. He has just six carries this year, but Rodriguez said that he wants to get him more carries this year.
On defense, Brandon Graham is probably one of the best pass-rushers in the Big Ten, and cornerback Donovan Warren continues to progress on his excellent natural abilities.
So, questions for you. We’ve all seen what a veteran quarterback on an overmatched team can do (Central over Michigan State). Is Andy Schmitt the real deal? What kind of impact can he have on this game?
What are your thoughts about the parity in college football — clearly the MAC has made strides in the last decade or so. As a guy who covers the MAC, how does it rank, top-to-bottom, against some of the other non-BCS leagues, like the Mountain West or the WAC? What about BCS leagues, for that matter?
And let me throw this one back at you — Other than Schmitt, what are some names Michigan fans should know going into Saturday?
Part 3 (Souva):
Schmitt can play, there’s no doubt. The question is whether or not he
can adapt to a new offense in his senior season. So far, he’s done so
with mixed results. Eastern used to run a spread but now uses a
pro-style offense, which features tailbacks more than the quarterback.
He said he likes the changes because it opens more possibilities, but
so far the offense has been terrible against Army and so-so against
Northwestern. The team’s struggles are comparable to Michigan’s switch
to a new offense last season. It’s simply going to take time and the
right recruits to master.
It’s sometimes hard to believe Schmitt welcomes the switch because of
all the passing records he set in the final two games of last season,
but the truth of the matter is he’s been really unselfish. It seems
he’d rather give his team a better chance to win than receive personal
Eastern’s offensive success on Saturday will be dictated by the play
of its offensive line and tailbacks. Dwayne Priest, who’s definitely a
player to watch, has been getting a bulk of the carries and ran for
more than 100 yards against Northwestern. Schmitt has to be a leader,
complete the proper check downs, not commit turnovers and maybe take a
shot downfield here and there. His games of 58-for-80 passing are long
On the defensive side, ball-hawking safety Ryan Downard and lineman
Brandon Downs, who led the team in tackles against Army, are players
to keep an eye on. And there’s the interesting story of Johnny Sears,
who most Michigan fans probably know about. He was recruited by
English to play at Michigan, kicked off the team in 2007 and given a
second chance at EMU. He’s played well at corner and has taken over
most of the return duties.
I don’t think this game is comparable to Central Michigan upsetting
Michigan State. Let’s put it this way, CMU was favored to win the MAC
West while EMU was picked last, and U-M, historically, has been better
than MSU. The math doesn’t add up.
I’d argue the only non-BCS conference the MAC is better than is the
Sun Belt. It’s not even close to the Mountain West or WAC, and is just
subpar to Conference USA, for example. This season, like in years
past, the MAC has an excellent crop of possible NFL quarterbacks: Tim
Hiller (WMU), Dan LeFevour (CMU), Tyler Sheehan (BGSU) and Aaron Opelt
And, Andy, do you have any other interesting tidbits about this week’s
game? What about some off-field fun like how do you think EMU students
will be received at Michigan Stadium? And, finally, how about a quick
prediction, including a score, for Saturday’s game?
Part 4 (Reid):
For any Eastern fans who have been to Michigan Stadium before, you’re in for a new treat — for better or worse, the Athletic Department has decided to shirk tradition and blast piped-in pop music over the loudspeakers during timeouts and TV timeouts. Some traditionalists have objected, but it’s been generally well-accepted, especially by the students.
Also, for any Eastern students reading this, even if you’re not coming to the game, you should come to Ann Arbor to see how a real football Saturday works. I’ve never tailgated for a game in Ypsi — nor would I particularly want to — but I can tell you it pales in comparison to a walk up and down State Street a few hours before kickoff. Come, get drunk, then watch the game at Chuck’s, Mitch’s or the Brown Jug. You’ll probably get your fair share of grief if you wear Eastern green, but Michigan fans aren’t so bad, especially compared to the hounds at Ohio State and Penn State. It’ll be fun — if you don’t come in expecting Eastern to win.
I think Michigan is going to get off to a bit of a sluggish start because of last week’s upset win. But after a reality check in the first quarter, the talent of Michigan’s offense will be too much — especially the spread-option package. Although Army’s and Michigan’s option attacks are pretty different, the fundamentals are the same, and the Eagles gave up 300 yards on the ground to the academy.
Score: Michigan 38, Eastern 10
Two games into his tenure, what are your thoughts on Ron English? He was a definite fan-favorite in 2006 while he was leading the Michigan defense to its best season since 1997. It sounds like the offense is a little more boring than last season’s, but do you think he’s a good fit?
Also, am I selling the Eastern game-day scene short? What’s a typical football Saturday like for a student at EMU? Could it possibly compare to an afternoon in the Big House?
Part 5 (Souva):
It’s too early to tell if English is a good fit our not. I’d grade his coaching performance at “C,” and I can’t go any higher than that when his team is 0-2. The standards at Eastern were pretty low when he arrived.
I do think the pro-style offense is a good fit it. Sure, when the spread was clicking it not only led to 50 points but also scored too quickly and never gave the poor defense a chance to rest, which led to the opposition scoring just as many. And there were games such as against Northern Illinois, where the spread simply didn’t work at all for whatever reason.
I’ve partaken in both Eastern Michigan and Michigan home games as fans, and unquestionably a U-M game is a better experience. It’s impossible to argue that, and probably always will be. But don’t sell the EMU and Ypsilanti experience completely short. It has its upsides: free tickets and promotions, for example. And as a football fan and purist, it’s great. There’s the opportunity to see those diamonds in the rough before the rest of the nation takes notice, such as a Ben Roethlisberger.
I think it’s safe to say things aren’t as peachy in Ann Arbor as the recent box scores suggest, but winning can mask a lot of off-the-field issues. And, this game will be another EMU loss and U-M win. EMU will not be able to consistently defend the spread option, and will struggle moving the ball on offense. It’s a simple explanation for a lopsided score: Michigan 42, Eastern Michigan 10.
Thank you, Andy, for participating in this discussion.
Related headlines from The Michigan Daily:
Former defensive coordinator returns to Big House sideline — but for Eastern Michigan
Football Saturday: Q&A with Eastern Michigan quarterback Andy Schmitt
Breakdown: The Battle of Washtenaw County should easily swing Michigan’s way
Michigan, Eastern a lot farther apart than six miles