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2017 Week 6 Preview: Eastern Michigan Eagles at Toledo Rockets

MAC West? More like the STACKed West.

Kenneth Bailey

Getting to know Eastern Michigan

Eastern Michigan almost had it. The Eagles, a longtime college football cellar dweller, nearly defeated an SEC team last Saturday. The Kentucky Wildcats were deadlocked at 14 with Chris Creighton's program in Lexington going into halftime last Saturday. Eastern Michigan hung tight with the 4-1 Power Five foe throughout the game's entirety. But as the clock hit triple zeros, Brogan Roback's Hail Mary attempt was intercepted by the Wildcat defense. 24-20.

Although the Eagles could not become the second MAC team to defeat an SEC opponent in College Football Playoff era, they showed that they have potential to compete in the heated MAC West race. Toledo entered the season as the favorite, but Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, and Eastern Michigan have all impressed against upper-level competition, suggesting this division could be an exciting four-team race.

However, the Eagles begin at a slight disadvantage. Eastern Michigan (2-2) sits at 0-1 in conference play after a heartbreaking double overtime loss to the MAC East favorite Ohio Bobcats in Week 4. After capturing a 7-point lead in the first overtime period, a defensive pass interference call on third-and-long provided Ohio with rebirth, and the Bobcats' offense responded with a game-tying touchdown. Eastern Michigan's second overtime drive ended up as a four-and-out, losing the conference clash 27-20.

Offensively, the Eagles are led by senior quarterback Brogan Roback. Roback was one of the leaders instrumental in bringing the program to its first bowl game since 1987 last season, throwing 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns. This season, Roback has struggled under pressure, committing four turnovers and taking nine sacks in the backfield.

But even with these shortcomings, Roback is posting extremely consistent performances through the air. All four of his passing yard outputs have been within a 16-yard span, ranging from 256 to 271 yards. The senior leads the second-best passing attack in the MAC and his defense will face the leader in the category this Saturday in Toledo.

Roback's primary target is Sergio Bailey II. After ranking first on the Eagles in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns as a junior, Bailey is replicating his production in his final year in Ypsilanti. Just like Roback, the receiver has performed consistently through four contests, earning 5-8 receptions in each for 78-107 yards.

As a result of all of this offensive stability, Eastern Michigan has posted similar scoring outputs each week: 24, 16, 20, and 20 — which simply averages to 20 points per game. College football normally features higher scores, but the Eagles' defense has done their job to keep the scoreboard low and provide Roback and the offense a chance to win each game. The defense has been spectacular, ranking 13th in the FBS in total yards allowed through five weeks.

And honestly, the Eagles could potentially be 4-0 right now. They have been competitive in all four games, and the last three have come down to the wire. Eastern Michigan narrowly edged out Rutgers (and collected a $860,000 check in the process) before falling to Ohio and Kentucky in tightly-contested battles.

Getting to know Toledo

Entering Week 4, just two MAC teams sported unblemished records: Eastern Michigan and Toledo. The Eagles fell to Ohio in overtime, but Toledo had its hands full with a Miami (FL) team that may be one of the most underrated ranked teams in college football right now. The Rockets led 16-10 at halftime after a bevy of Jameson Vest field goals, but Mark Walton and the Hurricanes shredded Jason Candle's defense in the second half.

Toledo earned a much-needed bye week in Week 5 to recoup from the 52-30 loss down by the beach in southern Florida. The Rockets' offense performed at an impressive level in the game. Quarterback Logan Woodside threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns, all without an interception. His deep ball was incredibly accurate all game, constantly finding his favorite targets — Cody Thompson, Diontae Johnson, and Jon'Vea Johnson — open down the field.

Thompson has been the team's star receiver in 2017. The senior has posted nothing but 100-yard games this season, with an especially noteworthy stat-line stemming from the Tulsa game. In the 54-51 victory, Thompson caught nine passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns — a special night to remember for the sixth leading receiver in Rockets' history.

The Johnsons have also provided support in the receiving game, each thriving as secondary threats in Toledo's pass-heavy offense. Woodside is the glue that keeps this receiving corps strong and together, and he does a magnificent job at spreading the wealth and getting all three wideouts their touches each game. In accurate fashion too.

Woodside is one of five quarterbacks that have thrown at least 11 touchdown passes and fewer than two interceptions this season, out of the 21 quarterbacks with the required amount of touchdowns.

Toledo also keeps the offense versatile in the run game, sharing carries between Terry Swanson, Art Thompkins, and Shakif Seymour. However, in more recent games, the Rockets have primarily utilized Swanson as the primary back, but the return to a three-back system is not completely out of the question.

The Toledo defense isn't looking its finest at the moment. In back-to-back performances, the Rockets' unit has yielded over 50 points, forcing the offense to score a plethora of points in order to remain competitive. Despite boasting a 3-1 record, Toledo ranks 116th nationally by allowing over 228 rushing yards per game. The defenders became accustomed of seeing Miami's Mark Walton and Tulsa's D'Angelo Brewer run up and down the field with ease.

Luckily for the Rockets, Eastern Michigan has struggled mightily in the rushing department. The Eagles have tallied a total of 298 rushing yards through four games, with running back Shaq Vann leading the way with 186 on 49 carries.

Game Notes

  • Date and time: Saturday, October 7, 2017 — 12 p.m. EST
  • Network: CBS SN
  • Location: Glass Bowl — Toledo, OH
  • Spread: Toledo (-13.5)
  • ESPN FPI Predictor: Toledo has 81.9% chance to win
  • All-time series: Toledo leads 33-11 over Eastern Michigan. The Rockets have currently won 10 straight, dating back to 2007. Going back even further, Toledo has bested the Eagles 16 out of the last 17 meetings. Last season, the Rockets won by a score of 35-20 in Ypsilanti.

Prediction

Eastern Michigan has shown solid defensive capabilities throughout the season. But the Eagles have yet to face an offense as high-powered as Toledo's. Logan Woodside and the Rockets have no problem crossing the 30-point mark, a factor which Eastern Michigan will likely struggle with.

A low-scoring game favors the Eagles, but once Toledo is scoring at a high rate, the Rockets should seal the deal. Toledo's defense can recover after the Miami game by facing a one-dimensional passing offense in Eastern Michigan. Eastern Michigan allows just 171 passing yards per game, but expect Woodside to find Thompson, Johnson, and Johnson early and often in the Glass Bowl to get back on track to 4-1. And if Toledo does indeed win, Eastern Michigan is still much better than its potential 2-3 record states.

Prediction: Toledo 38, Eastern Michigan 17