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2020 Mid-American Conference Football Week 1 Game Preview: Eastern Michigan Eagles at Kent State Golden Flashes

Football begins anew, as two teams looking to rewrite their respective histories take the field together in Week 1.

Will Preston Hutchinson Start or will this be the season for Isaac Stiebling?
Kenneth Bailey
Will Anyone Notice?
Kenneth Bailey

So after some degree of uncertainty about the status of the season, #MACtion returns to the Midwest.

The MAC was the first FBS Conference to decide to sit out the fall football season but it didn’t rule out a spring football season. It seemed like they would be in good company with the Big Ten and PAC Twelve deciding to defer their seasons.

However, after some deliberation, the MAC decided to hold a fall season after all (albeit a shortened one). I’m still not 100% sold on the idea but then again, I’m not the one to make the decision.

(Aside: I do know that I will not be photographing the games this year, as the only photographer on the field will be the team photographer. I will not be at games in person, either as media will only be allowed in the stands, which offers a limited view in the viewfinder. It’s a disappointing, but ultimately understandable exclusion.)

With that being said, let’s go into the preview.

Eastern Michigan heads east on the Ohio Turnpike to face the Kent State Golden Flashes at Dix Stadium in Ohio. This will be the 33rd game between the two opponents, with Kent State holding the advantage with 18 wins over Eastern Michigan’s 14. Last year, the Golden Flashes beat Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti by a final score of 34-26.

Will this be the season?
Kenneth Bailey

Eastern Michigan is coming off a 6-7 season, with a postseason appearance at the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, Michigan. They lost to the Pittsburgh Panthers by a score of 34-30 in the last drive of the game to end their 2019 campaign. There are a number of changes to the Eastern Michigan lineup from last year. Will these changes lead to the promise land of the MAC Championship for Eastern Michigan?

Is it him?
Kenneth Bailey

Mike Glass III moves on after graduating, which means the quarterback duties will probably fall to either Preston Hutchinson or Isaac Stiebling. Of the two, Preston Hutchison has more experience running the offense. Last year, he put up 3 touchdowns against the Broncos. Isaac Stiebling came to Ypsilanti with great fanfare but he has very little to show for it in the number of snaps taken. He didn’t record any statistics from last year (but I think he made an appearance in a couple of games). If I were betting man, I would say that Coach Creighton will go with Hutchinson. There is a wild card in the mix in the form of Aaron Jackson. He’s new to the lineup but based on his high school career, he might make a good two way threat and the Creighton offense seems to move better with that option at quarterback.

The running back corps is pretty much new blood with the retirement of Shaq Vann. I can only guess but based on them being in higher classes, I would say the running duties will be going to Karmi Mackey and Michael Foor. Eastern did get a transfer running back from Iowa, in the form of Samson Evans he may be the dark horse in the running.

For the most part, the receiving corps will have some familiar names but the question there is how will they respond to a new quarterback? Returning are Jairus Grissom, Hassan Beydoun, Dyland Drummond and Quian Williams. All have some fairly impressive numbers. Eastern Michigan also returns some experience to the offensive line, that might help the offense click.

The defense returns a number of juniors and seniors.

Based on the numbers from last year, they face a very similar team in Kent State.

Returning at quarterback will be Dustin Crum. He ran for 707 yards last year and is 216 for 312 in his career as a passer, averaging about 201 yards per game through the air. The Kent State receiver of note would be Isaiah McKoy, who had 870 receiving yards and a MAC-leading eight touchdown receptions last year. With the passing game taking so many yards, the Kent State running backs have fewer yards than expected returning, with Xavier Williams with 393 yards and 4 touchdowns and Joachim Bangda with 291 yards and 1 touchdown. Jo-El Shaw, a previous workhorse back, entered the transfer portal prior to the end of last season.

Last year, Eastern Michigan scored an average 29 points per game while giving up 31. Kent State’s numbers are similar— with the difference being they gave up 32 points per game. Eastern Michigan had a respective 283 yards per game in the air versus Kent’s 219 yards. Eastern was able to hold its opponents to 219 yards while Kent State held theirs to 229. On the ground, Eastern Michigan gained 122 yards per game versus Kent’s 186. Eastern gave up 194 yards on the ground to Kent’s 245. Eastern had 10 fumble recoveries while only giving up five. They threw 10 picks but got 12 of their own. Kent State had 11 fumble recoveries versus 10 fumbles. They only had two interceptions last year while throwing seven of their own.

So what does all of this mean?

Based on last year’s statistics, both are fairly evenly matched teams. Both had the same amount of time off. Eastern Michigan has a clean slate at running back, so that might have an effect. Kent State returns a very experienced quarterback and I think that will have a bigger effect. Given the fact that the game is at Kent State, I would give them an edge for that.

So if I go by the scores from last year, I will say that Kent State will win 32-29.