Eastern Michigan (1-1) is no stranger to weird kickoffs and opponents, seemingly willing to play any time, anywhere, in any conditions.
But this particular game against Arizona State (1-1) might be one of the stranger games the Eagles will ever participate in, with an 8 p.m. local time (11 p.m. Eastern) under a blazing moon in Tempe.
The Eagles will be seeking to once again pick up a non-conference win on the road against the Sun Devils, seeking to extend a streak dating back to 2015 of at least one such win per season, while Arizona State will look extend their home winning streak to four games dating back to 2021.
Both teams have shown a lot of promise— but also a lot of flaws— in their two games thus far this season, and want to walk out with a win to validate their efforts.
We take a look at both teams ahead of the kickoff:
- Time and Date: Saturday, September 17, 2022, at 11 p.m. Eastern time.
- Network: PAC-12 Network (A valid subscription is required for viewing.)
- Location: Frank Kush Stadium at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona
- Spread/Total: Arizona State is a 20.5-point home favorite, with an over/under of 56.5, per OddsShark.
- All-time series: First meeting
Getting to know the Sun Devils
The Sun Devils are in the fifth season of the Herm Edwards experiment, and have gone 26-19 in that stretch, including 8-5 (6-3 PAC-12) in 2021, finishing tied for second in their division.
The Sun Devils faced a tumultuous offseason, which culminated in a number of incoming and outgoing transfers, most notably Jayden Daniels to LSU. This staff is still looking for potential answers to several questions on both sides of the ball, and hope their contest against EMU will solve some of the issues before heading into PAC-12 play.
Arizona State’s two games are about as dichotomous of results as you can get, with a plastering at the hands of Oklahoma State and a cupcake win against local FCS squad Northern Arizona. This leaves something to be desired from a total stats standpoint.
The offense skews towards the run, understandable since much of the passing offense is still a work in progress, with 398 yards gained on 86 carries, for an average of 199 per game, scoring five times on the ground. Speaking of the passing offense, it’s not great, going 25-of-42 for 375 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. It’s an okay statline for one player in one game, but abysmal for a unit over two contests.
Emory Jones, a Florida transfer, is responsible for those numbers so far in the passing game, with Elijhah Badger (10 catches, 129 yards) responsible for the lone touchdown in the receiving corps. The rest of the receivers are still figuring out who will step up, as Utah Tech transfer Giovanni Sanders (115 yards) and Messiah Swinson (65 yards) are next up on the charts, with each having four catches.
Xazavion Holladay, the former Wyoming Cowboy halfback, has hit the ground running in his new home, with three of the team’s six total touchdowns in 36 carries, picking up 234 yards so far this season. Jones is also a contributor in short yardage, with two touchdowns from the quarterback spot.
There’s work to do key situations, as the team converts just 29 percent of their third-down attempts so far, while only getting maximum points in the redzone on only four of their seven attempts. Even PATs have been a struggle; of the 10 extra points ASU has attempted, they’ve only made six.
The defensive effort has been balanced and decent, allowing 292.5 total yards and 18.5 points per game, and four touchdowns overall (two passing, two rushing.) The rushing defense has proven especially capable, with 220 yards total allowed over 69 carries between the two games, while the passing defense has a positive turnover ratio with three interceptions and two scores allowed.
Fifth-year senior linebackers Kyle Soelle (21 tackles) and Merlin Robertson (17 tackles) lead the way for the Sun Devil defense on the tackle charts, with five players picking up at least one tackle-for-loss, with EDGE prospects Travez Moore (two) and Joe Moore (1.5) and defensive backs Khoury Bentley (1.5) leading the attack.
Soelle is also dangerous in coverage, picking up two of the team’s three interceptions, while defensive back Chris Edmunds nabbed the other. Ro Terrance leads all Sun Devil defenders with three pass break-ups.
Carter Brown is 5-of-6 as a kicker, with a leg which can hit confidently from about 44 yards and inwards.
Getting to know the Eagles
The Eagles, as ever, are unpredictable in their day-to-day performance.
They tend to feature as one of the highest variance teams in the country on a yearly basis, and based on the first two weeks of the season, we’re in for another wild ride in the 2022 campaign.
EMU built up a big lead against Eastern Kentucky, but had to defend it late to take away a 38-31 victory in the opening week, then went down to Louisiana last Saturday and built up a 14-0 halftime lead... only to allow a 49-7 run in the second half to lose the game.
This probably has a lot to do with their dependency on the “hold ball and get ball” gameplan, which hasn’t quite gone to plan so far this season, as EMU has a -5 turnover margin (four interceptions and three fumbles lost to one pick and one fumble recovered) this season.
The passing offense has a lot of dangerous pieces, but has had some calibration issues with new QB Taylor Powell (52-of-80, 588 yards, five touchdowns, four interceptions) in the front seat. EMU continues to spread the ball around, with five receivers picking up at least six receptions so far in just two games.
Tanner Knue (12 catches, 132 yards, three scores) leads the clubhouse as the security blanket, while JUCO transfer Darius Lassiter (eight catches, 91 yards) and stalwart receiver Hassan Beydoun (seven catches, 90 yards, one touchdown) are right behind. Tight end Gunnar Oakes and receiver Dylan Drummond are also names to look for there.
The running game is perpetually slotting in new players in the hopes of finding sparks, with two transfers in Lamar’s Jaylon Johnson (61 yards) and Northern Michigan’s Sebastian Toland coming in this season, but try as they might, Samson Evans continues to play his way into lead back duties, with 25 attempts for 108 yards and two scores, while also picking up a passing touchdown. He’s the dynamo which keeps the offense going, often utilized as a Wildcat QB in short-yardage situations.
If there’s one thing this offense has been good at, it’s been finding the endzone at the end of sustained drives; the Eagles are 45 percent on third-down attempts (11-of-24), and have found paydirt on all eight of their redzone trips.
Defensively, this team could use some work, especially in the passing game. Opponents are not afraid to throw balls over the heads of Eagle defenders, with an average of 330.5 yards per game and eight total touchdowns thus far. The rushing defense has fared a little better, with 290 net yards on 63 carries, with three scores. They haven’t particularly gotten home very much either, with just seven total tackle-for-loss yards and one sack.
A pair of transfer linebackers lead the table for EMU, with former Michigan State Spartan Chase Kline (14 tackles) and Boston College Eagle Joe Sparacio (12 tackles) holding the middle of the defense. EDGE rusher Jose Ramirez is a factor as well, with a tackle-for-loss and a QB hurry to go along with eight tackles. Interior lineman Jordan Crawford has 1.5 tackles-for-loss and EMU’s lone sack so far this season, while Blake Bogans claims their lone interception.
EMU has not attempted a field goal all year, but it’s understood that Jesus Gomez, of Pueblo, Mexico, is the primary kicker.
What to Expect
To put it shortly: you can’t be sure what to expect.
Both the squads who will take the field on Saturday night are both in various phases of building, and have clear issues to work through, hoping to use each other to find the solutions to their various problems.
Night games can have an odd energy to them, and with EMU’s dependency on keeping things close, if Arizona State gets out to a quick lead as expected, it might be a long night in Tempe.
Arizona State is a heavy favorite on talent alone, and you wouldn’t be blamed for taking the chance on them to win, especially in light of EMU’s deficiencies. Look for EMU to try and use their efficiency on offense to ensure Arizona State can’t get going early; it’s the only chance they’ll have at winning as a team who isn’t made for shootouts.