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2020 Mid-American Conference Football Week 3 Game Preview: Toledo Rockets @ Eastern Michigan Eagles

Toledo is coming off a heartbreaking loss, while the Eagles have dropped two nail biters to start the year. Who will come out on top in Ypsilanti?

Kenneth Bailey

GAME NOTES

Time and Date: 7:00 PM, Wednesday November 18th

Network: CBS Sports Network

Location: Rynearson Stadium - Ypsilanti, MI

Spread/Total: Toledo -6.5, O/U 59.5

All-time series: Toledo leads, 35-12

Last Meeting: Toledo 37, Eastern Michigan 34 (OT) – October 26, 2019


In one of the more intriguing games of Week 3, Toledo travels 49 miles north to Ypsilanti to take on Eastern Michigan at 7:00 on Tuesday. These are two teams that entered the year with different ambitions – Eastern hoping to reload after losing significant pieces from last years Motor City Bowl squad, and Toledo looking to bounce back after missing a bowl game for the first time since 2013. Through two weeks, both teams have been involved in some drama.

Toledo enters this week looking to bounce back from last weeks inexplicable 41-38 loss to Western Michigan, where the Rockets led 38-28 with less than a minute to go. After allowing WMU 2 TD’s and an onside kick recovery in the final minute, the Rockets enter this matchup with a 1-1 record and something to prove.

Eastern Michigan, on the other hand, has continued their propensity for close games. Unfortunately for the Eagles and their fans, they haven’t yet been able to get over the hill and get a victory this year. After blowing a late 23-20 lead against Kent State in week one, the Eagles blew a 21-7 second quarter lead to Ball State last week, allowing 304 yards rushing and 3 TD’s to Caleb Huntley in a 38-31 loss. Chris Creighton’s squad will certainly benefit from a home game after opening the season with back to back road tilts, and the Eagles enter the matchup with Toledo hungry to get one in the win column.


When Toledo Has the Ball

Through two weeks, the Toledo offense has been one of the best and most balanced in the conference. Senior QB Eli Peters leads the conference in offense thus far and is third in passing, throwing for 553 yards on 64.1% completion with 5 TD’s and 1 INT. The thing that has made Peters so effective is his ability to spread the ball out among all of his targets. While Peters has 50 completions on the year, RB Bryant Koback leads the team with only 11 catches, and six of the Rocket’s targets have at least 5 catches. This balance has put immense strain on opposing defenses thus far. The balance extends to the run game as well, where bell cow senior RB Bryant Koback leads the way and is complimented by change of pace Shakif Seymour. Koback leads the way with 152 yards on 45 carries and 3 TD’s, while Seymour has contributed 127 yards and 2 TD’s himself. Coach Jason Candle clearly put an emphasis on balance as he constructed this roster, and it has paid off. The Rockets currently rank fourth in the conference in scoring at 38 points per game, while ranking third in the conference in rushing and passing offense.

The theme of the year for the EMU defense thus far has been inconsistency. In week one, the Eagles allowed 13 points to Kent State in the opening eight minutes, only to limit them to 14 the rest of the game. In week two, the Eagles led 21-13 at half time, only to see Ball State explode for 25 points in the second half as the game slipped away. This unit has yet to put a complete game together, and a complete game is what they’ll need this week if they want a chance to take down the Rockets. In terms of the major defensive statistical categories, the numbers don’t paint a pretty picture for the Eagles. Eastern is currently 11th in the conference in rush defense (258.0 ypg) and 10th in total defense (483.5 ypg), while giving up 32.5 points per game.

Although the big picture stats may not bode well for the Eagles, there are some fantastic individual pieces on this defense. Senior Linebacker Terry Myrick is the leader of the unit, and he currently ranks fourth in the conference with 20 tackles through two weeks. Up front, senior defensive lineman Turan Rush is tied for the conference lead in both sacks (3) and tackles for loss (4). He has lived in opposing backfields thus far, and he needs to continue this high level of play moving forward if the EMU defense wants to see any improvement.

On the back end, Noski LaFleur leads the secondary with 2 INT’s and 3 passes defended thus far, and Russell Vaden IV and Jerodd Vines have made solid contributions as well. EMU is only allowing 225 yards per game through the air, good for 7th in the conference, though this unit will be tested significantly by the Rockets high powered offense.

If you’re an Eagles fan, the best chance here seems to be to get consistent pressure on Peter’s and force him to throw downfield. If EMU can keep the pressure on and force Peters to get rid of the ball quickly, the Eagles will give themselves a chance.


When Eastern Michigan Has the Ball

Eastern Michigan came into 2020 with significant questions on offense, as they were replacing both QB Mike Glass III and senior RB Shaq Vann. As should be expected with any offense breaking in new pieces, the results thus far have been mixed.

First, let’s start with a major positive: Junior QB Preston Hutchinson has stepped in to the starting role and looked the part. Hutchinson performed well in one start last year while filling in for an injured Glass, so he wasn’t a complete unknown to the Eagles faithful. Nonetheless, through two weeks he has further proven himself as a starter in this league, completing 59.4% of his passes for 491 yards, 3 TD’s, and 2 INT’s. Perhaps what’s been most impressive with Hutchinson has been his versatility, as he is also the Eagles leading rusher, with 28 carries for 88 yards and 4 TD’s. Hutchinson was especially effective on the ground against Ball State, with 17 carries for 104 yards and 3 TD’s.

The passing game seems to be the bread and butter of the EMU offense so far, ranking 7th in the conference at 245.5 yards per game. The receiving corps is led by junior Hassan Beydoun, who had 9 catches for 112 yards in the Eagles season opening loss to Kent State. After missing the Ball State game with an injury, Eastern is hopeful that they’ll get Beydoun back for the Toledo game. If Beydoun isn’t able to go, Hutchinson will likely lean more heavily on sophomore WR Tanner Knue, who currently leads the team with 12 catches for 166 yards.

The issue for the Eagles offense has been the running game. To put it simply, it has not been good. The Eagles currently rank 10th in the conference with only 144 rush yards per game. As a team, they’re only averaging 3.9 yards per carry, which is also good for 10th in the conference. One of the issues appears to be that the coaching staff is having trouble selecting a lead back. Through the first two weeks, there are four RB’s on the roster who have between 7-14 carries, with Samson Evans leading that group. Perhaps the coaching staff would be better served to designate Evans as the lead back, and mixing in guys like DJ Smith and Darius Boone.

The Rocket’s defense has been much improved this year, only giving up 22 points per game and ranking second in the league in rush defense. Admittedly, the Rockets defensive statistics are a bit inflated by the dominant performance against listless Bowling Green in week one, but there are some very encouraging signs here for Rocket fans.

Junior LB Dyontae Johnson has seemingly been everywhere through two weeks, leading the team with 16 tackles. The defensive line has been incredibly solid across the board, with Darius Alexander, Jamal Hines and Nate Givhan all playing at a very high level. There’s a reason the run defense has been so good thus far.

Though not quite as highly ranked, the pass defense has been solid as well. The Rockets are currently giving up 206 yards per game through the air, good for fifth in the conference. Led by seniors Tycen Anderson and Samuel Womack, the Toledo secondary is bolstered by continuity and veteran leadership. Outside of a few drives during the Western Michigan game, this secondary has covered incredibly well and is a big reason for the defensive improvement thus far. Sophomore safety Nate Bauer is another player to watch in the secondary, as his interception in the first quarter against Bowling Green helped set the tone for that game.


Prediction

This game is a meeting of two teams that could really use a win. Toledo would love to get the sour taste from last week out of their mouth, while the Eagles are looking to get over the hump after two tough losses to start the season.

The match up’s in this game seem to favor Toledo – after watching Caleb Huntley run for 300 yards last week against this EMU defense, it’s not hard to imagine the Rocket’s 3rd ranked rushing attack doing the same thing. Expect the Rockets to establish the run game early, with Koback and Seymour both getting significant touches. With the run game established, Eli Peters and the receiving corps will be able to go to work, though I do expect them to be challenged a bit by the Eagles secondary.

Preston Hutchinson has proved himself to be a legitimate QB in this league, and I expect him to keep Eastern in this game. For a team that seems to play nothing but close games, this could be another one. Ultimately, I think the Eagles inability to run the ball will hurt them in this game, and I think EMU will run out of gas in the second half.

Toledo 30, Eastern Michigan 24