Like every season, there are always some surprises. One of the big surprises for me is how Eastern Michigan has improved over last year. Currently they have four wins which more than their total wins for the past two years. If they get one more win, they will have surpassed their win total in the last three years. Two more wins and they will match their best record in the past ten years.
Grading the Defense.
A good part of Eastern Michigan’s record so far is the significant improvement of their defense. At the end of last season, Brad McCaslin was replaced at Defensive Coordinator by Neal Neathery. Neal Neathery was the defensive coordinator at the University of Texas San Antonio and had a reputation of considerably improving the defense there. He coached with Creighton in the past.
Another improvement to Eastern Michigan’s defense was the return of Pat O’Connor from his injury. He has been the anchor of this year’s defense. How much has this defense improved? Last year they were giving up an average of 316 rushing yards per game. Currently they are standing at 142 yards per game. In their best performance last year, they gave up 175 yards to Central Michigan. Their worst was the 556 yards given up to Army. They haven’t given up more than 300 yards rushing in a game so far this year. Yardage wise, their passing defense is about the same as last year but they have four interceptions so far versus four interceptions all season last year. Currently, they have one less fumble recovery than they did last year. Long story short there, they are forcing more turnovers. If they continue on current pace, they will beat their sack total by six.
I think they still have room for improvement on defense, so I will give them a grade of B+ at this point in the season. I am seeing them work much harder this year.
Grading the Offense.
Eastern Michigan has had two quarterbacks start this season. Todd Porter started the season and looked decent. He completed 87 out of 142 passes for 212 yards per game. He has thrown 9 picks so far, so I think if he is going to be the starter, he is going to have to improve that aspect of his game. Brogan Roback took over after Todd Porter was injured in the Bowling Green game. He hasn’t put up the same passing yardage but he has only thrown one pick. If were going to grade the quarterbacks, I’d give them a grade of a C. This is mainly due to the number of interceptions given up.
Receiving has been by committee. If I were going to pick a leader of the trio, I would pick tight end Nigel Kilby. He has caught three touchdowns and is averaging 16 yards per carry. The other two main receivers are Sergio Bailey and Antoine Porter who have caught two touchdowns each and average 12 yards per carry each. I’ll give them a grade of B.
If I wrote this based on the beginning of the season, I probably would have been mentioning running back Shaq Vann. Before he got injured in the Missouri game, he could have topped 1000 yards this season. After him, you have Ian Eriksen and Breck Turnner. I think of the two, Breck Turner may be slightly better at 5.4 yards per carry. The rushing attack has been pretty inconsistent though, so they get a B-.
Of special note is the play of the offensive line. So far, they have given up only 4 sacks versus 12 last year. It seems like Eastern Michigan the time to let plays develop. I’m not sure if this is a credit to the line, but Eastern Michigan has only fumbled the ball 2 times versus 12 from last year. I would love to see these trends continue.
Grading the Special Teams
Another bright spot for the Eagles has been their play on special teams. Punter Austin Barnes has average almost 47 yards per kick. He’s pinned the opponents deep a few times. Paul Fricano has been 8 for 10 on field goals and is 100% on point after touchdowns. My only knock was a couple miscues in the Toledo game that did not help Eastern Michigan’s cause. But overall, I’ll give Eastern Michigan’s special teams an A.
Looking at the Rest of the Season
The rest of the season is at Ohio, at Western Michigan, Miami, at Ball State, Northern Illinois and Central Michigan. Based on their current records, I think that Ohio, Miami and Northern Illinois are winnable. Ball State is probably a winnable game. Central and Western Michigan probably both require perfect games on Eastern Michigan’s part and mistakes on their opponents’ part in order to win. So I could potentially see Eastern Michigan winning three more games. Based on prior seasons, that would be amazing and I hope that I haven’t jinxed things.