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2018 Week 2 MAC Preview: Eastern Michigan Eagles @ Purdue Boilermakers

The odds are stacked against the Eagles, but is there a way they can derail the Boilermakers?

Kenneth Bailey

Chris Creighton turned the lights on in The Factory last Thursday night, and his employees got straight to work. Eastern Michigan pounced on the Monmouth Hawks of the FCS, edging its opponent 51-17 on the grey field in Ypsilanti.

With the losses of 2017 seniors Brogan Roback (everyone’s favorite Hard Knocks character) and Sergio Bailey II, there was uncertainty about how Eastern Michigan’s offense would perform to open 2018.

Newly appointed starting quarterback Tyler Wiegers put those uncertainties to rest. Against an upper-tier FCS program (9-3 in 2017), the senior completed 18-of-21 passes for two touchdowns in the 34-point blowout.

The defense, led by strong safety Brody Hoying, held its own, providing a constant stream of pressure on the Monmouth quarterback. Creighton’s defense ended the almost flawless night in Ypsilanti with three sacks and an interception — only allowing one touchdown prior to garbage time.

But Monmouth is no FCS team. And Purdue, Eastern Michigan’s ensuing opponent, appears to be a program on the rise.

Last year, former Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm took the challenge of improving a Boilermakers team that finished a dreary 6-30 from 2014-16. The Boilermakers’ 0-1 record pales in comparison to Eastern Michigan’s undefeated mark, but Brohm’s program was already tested with a very strong Northwestern team in Week 1.

Purdue stays at home for the second-straight week, hoping it doesn’t sink to 0-2 and revert back to its old ways. Meanwhile, the underdog Eagles aim to become the first MAC team to fly the MAC jolly roger after a Power Five win since the flag’s inception.


Players to Watch

Elijah Sindelar and David Blough, QB, Purdue

Despite Purdue’s offensive success in the upstart Brohm era, the Boilermakers have been in the midst of a quarterback battle for quite some time. Sindelar started eight contests in 2017, while Blough was sent out first in the other five.

The former of the two won MVP honors at the Foster Farms Bowl last December after exploding for 396 yards and four touchdowns. But after tossing three interceptions in at Ross-Ade Stadium, longtime Purdue quarterback David Blough checked in as the relief pitcher and nearly led a dramatic comeback effort.

Sindelar is the big-play quarterback, while Blough is a good pocket passer who prefers to target reliable screens. Brohm has yet to name the starter, but he claims both experienced signal callers will see the field on Saturday morning, per The Herald Bulletin.

Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

If you are a citizen of the college football Twitterverse, odds are you heard about the first “Heisman candidate” of the season. In his first-ever collegiate game, the true freshman Sharpie’d his way into the Purdue record books. Rondale Moore set the Boilermakers’ all-purpose yards record for a single game, rushing for 79 yards, earning 109 receiving yards on 11 catches, and returning five kicks for 125 yards. That sums up to 313 for the 18-year old.

Moore’s speed and cutting ability looked unparalleled in the Big Ten conference clash against Northwestern. Here are the 5’8” playmaker’s skills on full display during a first half 76-yard touchdown run.

As mentioned in the previous sentence, Moore stands just five feet and eight inches above the ground, weighing 174 pounds. Don’t let his build fool you when it comes to his leg strength. Just one month after his 18th birthday, Moore drew plenty of eyes after completing a 600-pound squat.

Contrary to his stat-line, reigning Gatorade Player of the Year from Kentucky high schools is actually stoppable. Northwestern’s defense led by inside linebacker Paddy Fisher managed to limit him to just 11 all-purpose yards in the second half after he cannonballed for 302 in the first 30 minutes of action. Limiting Moore from producing is a daunting task, one which Eastern Michigan will have to wrestle with during its trip in West Lafayette.


Tyler Wiegers, QB, Eastern Michigan

Despite first appearing on the field in 2015 as an Iowa Hawkeye, Wiegers saw his first meaningful minutes come on Thursday night’s victory. The senior completed 85.7% of his passes to usher in the post Brogan Roback era, one that looks more promising now than it sounded preseason. Wiegers completed the contest error free, firing touchdown passes to Blake Banham and Mathew Sexton, all while avoiding an interception.

Ian Eriksen, RB, Eastern Michigan

The senior running back showed up to The Factory for his final opener of his college career. Eriksen’s 44-yard performance didn’t rank as one of his more memorable ones, but he remains an effective halfback. Purdue’s run defense struggled limiting Northwestern’s sophomore running back Jeremy Larkin in Week 1, allowing the back to register 143 yards and two touchdowns. Suffering from the departure of outside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, Purdue’s run defense must see better results when Eriksen is paired up against the unit on Saturday.

Kenneth Bailey

Maxx Crosby, DE, Eastern Michigan

Crosby sat out of Eastern Michigan’s 51-17 win for undisclosed reasons. If No. 92 rejoins his teammates this weekend, the Eagles return their most dominant member of their front seven. Crosby ranked among the FBS’s elite in 2017 with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Blough and Sindelar aren’t the most mobile of quarterbacks, so Crosby’s presence in the backfield could be key if he permeates through Purdue’s offensive line.

Brody Hoying, SS, Eastern Michigan

Hoying assisted on a sack and recorded 1.5 tackles for loss in the opening win versus Monmouth. The strong safety from Coldwater, OH is the Eagles’ main standout on the secondary. From the backfield to the slot, Rondale Moore lines up all over the field for Brohm’s offense. There’s no single player on Eastern Michigan to serve as a better counter to the star freshman than Hoying.


Keys to the Game

Purdue wins if the Boilermakers perform to expectations. Brohm’s team is fresh off of a 7-6 season and things look to go uphill from here, or at worst, remain constant. Purdue did not have the luxury of getting out to a fast start and its offense struggled moving the ball in the waning moments of the game. The team’s execution at the beginning and end of the game has to improve in order to notch points in the win column.

The Boilermakers should find plenty of success targeting the deep ball on Saturday, especially with a talented receiving corps featuring Moore, Jackson Anthrop, and Jared Sparks. As long as the quarterbacks don’t squander the game with a litany of interceptions, Purdue should have no problem dispatching the Eagles en route to its first 2018 victory.

Eastern Michigan wins if the team can apply plenty of pressure on Purdue and force turnovers. The jury is still out on Eastern Michigan’s offense because of the quality of opponent it faced in week one, and I believe the Eagles’ greatest asset is its defense. With Crosby and Jeremiah Harris anchoring the defensive line, the Eastern Michigan defense has a decent shot at defeating Purdue in the battle of the trenches. Applying pressure and forcing consistent bad throws and interceptions is the Eagles’ key to pulling off their second ever Big Ten/Power Five victory, after edging out Rutgers last September.


Game Notes

Time and Date: Saturday, September 8, 12:00 p.m. EST

Network: Big Ten Network

Venue: Ross-Ade Stadium (85,458) — West Lafayette, IN

Spread: Purdue (-16.5)

ESPN FPI Predictor: Purdue has 87.4% chance to win

Series history: Purdue leads 2-0

It’s no surprise the Boilermakers have dominated the Eagles in both meetings, set in 1991 and 2012. Purdue defeated Ron English’s struggling Eastern Michigan program 54-16 six years ago, and the two have yet to meet since. The Eagles, who are in the midst of some of their best years in program history, have only defeated one Power Five opponent in their history, staving off Rutgers 16-13 on Week 2 in 2017.


Prediction

Not many MAC teams exceeded expectations as much as the Eastern Michigan Eagles did on opening week. Chris Creighton has lifted the Eagles out of the cellar, putting together a respectable team year-in and year-out, even without Roback.

The Eagles look like a legitimate team that could attain the 6-win mark to qualify for bowl season, but Purdue’s offense will likely be too much for the squad from Ypsilanti to handle. Rondale Moore will take up plenty of the discussion in film study this week, and that could easily open a passageway for another breakout player such as Jackson Anthrop or running back D.J. Knox if Eastern Michigan shifts too much of its focus to the true freshman.

It’s hard to see Eastern Michigan’s offense going punch-for-punch with a Jeff Brohm-run program, and the MAC pirate flag will remain off the mast at Ross-Ade.

Prediction: Purdue 42, Eastern Michigan 20