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2019 MAC Football Report Card: Eastern Michigan Eagles

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Do they pass or fail?

Photos: Kenneth Bailey (top left), James H. Jimenez (bottom right) | Illustration: James H. Jimenez

There are many ways that you can judge a team. Probably the first metric is a comparison of how they did versus the prior year. Another way, is to compare from year to prior years. I’m not in favor of that method because there are so many variables in a college football team that often times that is not a fair comparison. I’m just going to look at this year versus last year.


The Offense

Quarterback

In some ways, Mike Glass III showed improvement over last year.
Kenneth Bailey

I’ll start with the quarterback and work my way to other parts of the team.

While Mike Glass III wasn’t the starting quarterback in 2018, he played in many key situations. So, I think this is a fair comparison. In 2018, Glass played in 8 games. He completed 62 percent of his passes for an average of 128 yards per game. Glass threw one interception and nine touchdowns. In 2019, he played in 12 games. In those twelve games, he completed 66% of his passes for an average of 264 yards per game. He threw eleven interceptions and 24 touchdowns.

Overall, I would say he did pretty well. The number of interceptions thrown may be a knock against him but he was was used more this year.


Running backs

He stayed mostly healthy
Kenneth Bailey

When you mention running backs at Eastern Michigan for the past two years, you might as well just say running back because Shaq Vann pretty much carried the load for both years. Overall, the team lost 23 yards per game from 2018 to 2019, but Shaq Vann improved his rushing yards per game in the same span, while playing one less game. That effort was rewarded with him scoring eight touchdowns in 2019 versus five in 2018. That being said, it seemed like the overall Eastern Michigan run game stalled at times and that may have cost them a couple games. But since, I’m just looking at Shaq Vann, I’ll grade him high.


Receivers

The defining moment of Mathew Sexton’s career at Eastern Michigan
Kenneth Bailey

Given that the Eastern Michigan passing game improved between 2018 and 2019, it stands to reason that the receiving corps improved as well. Given that the run game was stuck in first gear when other running backs were present, Eastern Michigan seemed to rely on their receivers. Their three main receivers were Quian Williams, Mathew Sexton and Arthur Jackson III. All of their numbers were about the same but I think the highlight reel was deliverd by Mathew Sexton. First there was the punt return shown above and then there was a nice catch against Western Michigan. So overall, I’ll give a high mark to the receivers.


Overall Offense

In 2018, the Eagles score 27 points per game. In 2019, they scored 29 points per game. Their 6-6 record does not lie at the feet of their offense. They gave up fewer sacks, improved their passing game, slid a little in their running game but total offense showed an improvement. They also showed improvement in ball control by giving up fewer turnovers. It did seem like the offense stalled at times but I attribute that to the lack of running game. But still, overall they looked pretty good.

A-

Special Teams

Overall, Eastern Michigan special teams looked better than their 2018 predecessors. They were more accurate on field goals and their punts were slightly longer.

Jake Julien was one of the better punters in the MAC, averaging 43.8 yards per punt in 2019, with just four touchbacks on the season. He also picked up 12 fair catches and 19 punts inside the 20-yard line out of 50 attempts.

Placekicker Chad Ryland had a moderate improvement over his 2018 totals, kicking in 14 out of 19 attempts (73.6 percent) and setting a new career-high of 52 yards. Ryland, also the primary kickoff specialist, booted 36 of his 71 kickoffs for touchbacks, with the rest of the kickoffs averaging about 60.6 yards.

A demerit for the Eagles comes in the way of their kick/punt return defense. They were amongst the worst teams in the country at defending kickoffs, allowing at least one KO return touchdown and averaging a return of 23.81 yards on average. It wasn’t terribly better for punt returns, as the Eagles gave up 11.7 yards per return on 10 returnable punts.

THe Eagles were also fairly pedestrian at kick returns, with 15 returns averaging 16.93 yards. They opted for fair catches a lot, so it’s not terribly surprising. On the flipside of that equation, EMU was one of the country’s top punt return units, averaging 12 yards per return and one punt return touchdown (good for 21st in the country.)

I’m pretty sure they missed this guy
Kenneth Bailey

Defense

If there was an area where Eastern Michigan slid, it was on defense.

I think a big part of that was losing Maxx Crosby to the NFL, and in his absence, the rest of the defense stepped up for the most part in rushing the quarterback. They generated only five less sacks from 2018 to 2019, not a surprise given they lost out on an NFL talent. But in other categories, they gave up quite a bit.

They gave up an average of 86 more yards per game in the passing game, with similar regression in defending the running game. They also gave up an average of nine points per game more; it’s hard to win games when you give up more points than you score. While they lose a few key players on defense, I don’t think the drop will be as significant next year. That said, it’s still extremely worrying to see those numbers dip so low and be directly responsible for a handful of losses.

Eastern might be able to fly for free for a while
Kenneth Bailey

Overall

I’m only looking at the regular season records but dropping from 7-5 to 6-6 can be huge. Fortunately, there were just enough bowl eligible teams as there were bowl games.

Any other year, a .500 record would not be enough for a MAC team to make a bowl game. Still, when I wrote my preview, I though their record would have been worse this year. Factor in that they played their first three games on the road and won two of those. They were on the road more than they were at home. Losing, a big presence on their defense didn’t help but they mostly stepped it up. While I’m not entirely happy with their record this year, I’m not entirely upset about it either. It will be interesting to see how they step up on offense next year.