The term "lost season" is so cruel. It means that a team has nothing to play for, that they're so far down, why even bother. If you're playing sports only to get to a championship — or in college football's weird case, a "bowl game" — then you're not playing it for the right reasons. You play for enjoyment, and you want to get better at it, and that's what Eastern Michigan is doing. Maybe not in the sense of going from 6-6 in one year to 0-6 the next, but the 2012 incarnation of the EMU Eagles has come a long way from losing by 17 to Illinois State. They are suddenly scoring and scoring and whoops they let the other team score oh well we have the ball back let's score again.
That has been EMU's modus operandi against Toledo and Army, and scoring points is at least half the battle. Now they just need to stop the other team ... and I'd say BGSU is a good team to try to stop.
This is the third worst offense in the MAC by total points scored. They're not even getting 20 points a game against FBS competition. This is mostly on the passing game, on which they rely much, and is ranked 102nd in efficiency. They do everything else well except actually pass the ball well. OK then.
But they have been impressive as a total team against Akron (second half), Miami (every quarter) and UMass (defense only), and that's comforting so far. They are a slingshot's range away from Kent State and OHIO for the MAC East, so the chance to wreck some excellent stories is still a plausible outcome, if not a pipe dream. But only if a victory over EMU is impending.
And now for the Q&A portion of the program, with a little help from our own Mr. Adler, who answered me these questions
1. So, 1-6 probably isn't what you're looking for, so what would define a good season for the next five games?
Well, what I'd really like is for the team to finish 4-1 (which, when you add in last Saturday's win, would really be 5-1), because that gets them to the 5-7 record that I thought was the realistic worst case before the season started. That would require them to win at Bowling Green, at Western Michigan, home against Central Michigan, and either at Ohio or home against Northern Illinois. Frankly, if the offense continues to show up the way they have the last two games -- assuming those weren't just the function of weak opposing defenses -- I think 3-2 could be realistic. That gets them to a 4-8 record, which at least avoids being a complete embarrassment.
2. The strength IMO of the BG team is their front seven on defense. How do you like the offensive line's chances of bottling up Chris Jones and company?
At this point I'm just not sure what to expect from EMU's offense. The big question is whether EMU's 95 points scored in the last two games (more than in the prior six games combined) are because Tyler Benz (now that he's got a few starts behind him) and Bronson Hill add that much to the offense, or because Toledo and Army don't know how to play defense. I saw three key things last week that do give me hope.
First, the pass protection. As great as they were in run-blocking last year, EMU's offensive line always struggled in pass protection, even against a weak rush, and that lack of pass protection carried over to the start of this season (just look at all the sacks Gillett took against Illinois State). Last week Benz had all kinds of time to make throws.
Second, the route-running. I saw some beautiful route-running by EMU's receivers last week. It wasn't needed then, because of the aforementioned pass protection, but in addition to the deep receivers getting open, I saw receivers getting nice separation on short inside crossing routes that would have been Benz's safety valve if the pass protection failed. Hmmm...success throwing deep, receivers getting separation on short crossing routes...sounds like a good setup for some screen passes. If only Ken Karcher would give some indication that he'd heard of such a thing...
Third, Bronson Hill. For as great a job as Dominique Sherrer, Javonti Greene, and Dominique White did running the ball last year, they were largely taking the yards that the offensive line opened for them. After watching him for a couple games, Hill seems to have a lot more ability at dodging and breaking tackles. Hill also seems to have more open-field speed than the other running backs. We've seen his speed when he's carrying the ball, and last week we saw his speed as he came all the way across the field for a tackle, to prevent an interception from becoming an Army touchdown.
3. BG is probably one of the poorest offensive teams, and EMU has given up 126 points in their last three games. What's a good number to keep the Falcons below? 30? 20?
Seeing as how the Falcons managed 24 points each against the mighty defenses of Akron and Massachusetts, I'd set that as the goal. That would be EMU's second-best defensive performance of the year, and Michigan State scoring 23 points had more to do with the Spartans' ineptitude on offense than with anything EMU's defense did.
4. Gotta ask you about Bronson Hill. Where the heck did those performances come from?
Yeah, everyone who watched EMU's offense struggle for the first five games is wondering the same thing. In the post-Toledo press conference, Ron English said, "Yeah, we knew he had good speed because we've been watching him in practice." [Not an actual quote; feel free to listen to what he actually said, which is embedded after the first paragraph here, and get the real quote.] So of course, what every EMU fan is wondering is, if the coaches knew he had this kind of ability and were watching him do this in practices, WHY WASN'T HE PLAYING ON SATURDAYS???
I think the answer is that, as the coaching staff has shown with other players (e.g., Alex Gillett), they have a tendency to stick with their guys, even when on-field performance suggests that a change is needed. Loyalty is good, but loyalty to the point of blindness is something else, and that's what we've been seeing here.
5. Say something nice about offensive coordinator Ken Karcher.
Come over here and make me.