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2013 Pre-Season Preview: Eastern Michigan Eagles

2012 Record: 2-10 (1-7 in MAC)

Head Coach: Ron English (10-38 at EMU, 7-25 in MAC)

Four Year Trend: 2.5 wins and 9.5 losses per year

Last Bowl Game: 1987 California Bowl: Beat San Jose St 30-27

Stadium: Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti, MI (capacity = 30,200)

Home Field Advantage: ranked 55th out of 55 mid-major teams

Schedule Glimpse:

2013 Schedule Link

Out of Conference Games: 8/31 vs Howard, 9/7 at Penn State, 9/14 at Rutgers, 10/12 at Army

Rivalry Games: 11/9 vs WMU, 11/29 at CMU

 

Statistical Snapshot:

2012 Statistics Link

Stat to Fear: had just 7 sacks in 2012 (last in MAC), converted on just 33.13% of third downs (last in MAC)

Stat to Cheer: held opponents to 54.72% TD rate in red zone (5th in MAC)

Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 101st out of 124 teams

 

Personnel:

Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 5, Special Teams: 1

Key Defensive Returnees: FS Donald Coleman (85 tackles), SS Pudge Cotton (66 tackles)

Key Offensive Returnees: QB Tyler Benz (1506 yds pass, 14 TD, 8 INT), RB Bronson Hill (905 yds rush, 6.4 ypc, 6 TD)

 
 

Inside Scoop with the Eagle Totem Blog:

CFBZ: After seemingly breaking-through in 2011 with a 6-6 record, the Eagles went just 2-10 last season. What went wrong?

Eagle Totem Blog: Well, first off, I think we all put too much credence in a 6-6 record that was built on a weak schedule. Also the team struggled with key injuries on defense, and lacked an identity on offense.

Start with strength of schedule — or lack thereof. The six teams they beat combined for a whopping 10 wins at the FBS level (three of which came over Akron). Six of those wins were by Western Michigan, whom the Eagles caught at an ideal time, and still needed a nearly perfect defensive effort in front of a Homecoming crowd to edge out the win. Buffalo and Central Michigan had two FBS wins each, and Akron, Alabama State, and Howard had none. In retrospect, we should have seen that schedule strength as more of a red flag that the “improvement” was not for real. By comparison, in 2012, the teams at the top and in the top half of each MAC division were as good as they’ve ever been — it was arguably the most successful season in league history — and EMU’s cross-division schedule saw them face the top three teams from the East (Kent State, Bowling Green, and Ohio).

I won’t run through the defensive injuries in detail, but suffice it to say that almost every starting linebacker and defensive back (perhaps even every one) missed at least one game at some point. Although the team was MAC-competitive throughout most of the uninjured starting lineup, the drop off in on-field performance beyond that — due in some cases to ability, and elsewhere to lack of experience — was painfully obvious.

While injuries are usually beyond a team’s control, and schedule strength can only be managed on a very long-term basis, offensive identity is controllable within a season, and for that reason, the team’s offensive struggles were the most frustrating aspect of the 2012 season. Despite building a reputation in 2011 as a hard-nosed run-first offense, and despite returning 80% of the offensive line, returning the several top running backs, and returning an excellent running quarterback with 2 ½ years already under his belt as the starter, and despite losing the top wide receiver to injury, someone on the coaching staff made the inexplicable decision to go pass-first. Even worse, once that decision was made, the staff stuck with Alex Gillett as the starting quarterback, despite his clear discomfort running that sort of system. Mid-way through the season, Tyler Benz, who had previously thrown all of two passes in his collegiate career, got the nod as starter, though in one element of one of the most inexplicable coaching performances I’ve seen, Benz was benched after going 7-9 for a touchdown and an interception, with a 14-10 halftime lead over Central Michigan. (In the second half Gillett went 3-17 for a touchdown, an interception, and a 34-31 loss.) In the end, OC Ken Karcher took the blame for several years of poor offensive performances, but I have a hunch that a good chunk of that blame is due to Ron English’s decisions.

CFBZ: Stan Parrish has been brought in to take over the offensive coordinator duties. What should we expect out of the offense this season?

Eagle Totem Blog: It’s hard to say. From what I’ve been able to find out from talking to fans of schools where Parrish has been OC in the past (Michigan, Ball State), he’s done pretty well with that level of responsibility. Really, the big question here is how much latitude Ron English will allow Parrish to run the offense. As I mentioned, although Ken Karcher took the fall for the last several seasons of poor offensive performance, I’ve always had the feeling that Ron English has had a heavy hand in those failings, whether the initial two years of off-tackle running without the personnel to make it work, or last year’s awkward attempts to transition to a more pass-friendly system.

CFBZ: The defense was dead last in the MAC in yards allowed in 2012 and in conference games gave up the most points in the league. Who needs to step up on defense for the Eagles?

Eagle Totem Blog: Given how bad the defense was last year, I don’t think I’d be out of line to say, “everyone”. But let’s be honest, as I mentioned above, a meaningful element of last year’s poor defensive performance was due to a slew of key injuries (at one point including as many as three potential starters at defensive back and two potential starting linebackers) — something that hadn’t been such a problem the year before. If most of the starters can just stay healthy this year, that will be a big help. There’s a reasonable amount of returning experience on the defensive line and among the defensive backs, but linebackers will be a big question following the graduation of Bryan Pali, Blake Poole, and Justin Cudworth. Add to that the disappearance, possibly due to injury, of Colin Weingrad, who I’d expected to contend for a starting role last fall, but who is not listed on the spring roster for EMU, and experience in the linebacker corps is a major concern.

CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?

Eagle Totem Blog: Excluding interim coaches who led the team for less than a full season, English has the second-lowest winning percentage in the last century, and the lowest in 30 years. I think the simplest way to measure success is to look for improvement, and in the fifth year, the fair comparison is to EMU’s prior coaching regime. Over five years as head coach, Jeff Genyk went 16-42, winning 27.6% of his games. To get to that percentage, English will need the Eagles to win 7 games this fall, for a cumulative Ron English-era record of 17-43 (or 17-44 with a bowl game).

Honestly, even a seven-win season, which would be EMU’s best since 1989, might not be enough to earn an extension for Ron English, and I’m not sure I’d mind seeing him gone. As far as I’m concerned, this was the point when I decided I was ready for Ron English to be gone, and it would take a turn-around on the order of Miami University’s 2010 season to change my mind on that score. (As an interesting footnote, EMU’s coaching roster now includes one of Mike Haywood’s top assistants from that team, KiJuan Ware, who was set to become OC under Haywood at Pittsburgh until, well…) But the fact is that English has hardly distinguished himself through his first four years in Ypsilanti, and a new Athletic Director (the search is currently underway) might see bringing in a new head football coach as a good way to quickly put his or her stamp on the department.

 
 
Verdict:
 
The Eagles return QB Tyler Benz and leading rusher Bronson Hill. They lose leading receiver TE Garrett Hoskins but do return all of their receivers (unfortunately none of them really made a mark last season). The OL will lose three veteran starters but do have four players with eight or more career starts. Getting the offense back on track will be key for the Eagles and Stan Parrish has his work cut out for him.
 
The Eagles return their leading sacker, Kalonji Kashama. The bad news? He only had three sacks. The Eagles have to get after the QB better in 2013 as they finished 123rd out of 124 teams in sacks with just seven. On the flip side, they also have to stop the run as they gave up a FBS worst 6.27 ypc. There will be a huge turnover in the LB corps as the Eagles lose their top three tacklers. If there is a strength on the defense it's in the secondary with Donald Coleman and Pudge Cotton and a couple of JUCO's could help stabilize that unit.
 
The schedule is not EMU's friend this season. Akron and UMass are nowhere to be found and that's not a good thing. From the opposite division the Eagles get Bowling Green, Ohio and Buffalo which should all be in the top half of that division depending on how Buffalo finishes. This looks like another long year for the Eagles. 
 
Prediction: 2-10
 
 
 
Kevin Causey

About Kevin Causey

dry humorist, beer snob, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, writer for Crystal Ball Run and founder of College Football Zealots

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