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What We Learned from Eastern Michigan’s 30-21 win at Arizona State

Having a good run game produces good things, something EMU figured out against an opponent they were expected to fall to.

The probable hero of the game
Kenneth Bailey

It’s always nice to see Eastern Michigan beat a Power Five team. Of the four times that Eastern Michigan has done that, this was probably the most convincing of the group, a thorough domination from the start. First of all, the final margin was by more than one score. Second, they led from the first score until the scoreboard read 0:00 in the fourth quarter. Third, Eastern Michigan simply dominated on the ground after weeks of struggling to gain 100 yards, going off-tendency to get the best of the Sun Devils.

With that, we will go into the lessons of the game:

The EMU run game dictated the terms

It’s rare that I get to say this, but Eastern Michigan had a running game that dominated the field.

Eastern Michigan was able to rack up 305 yards on the ground against what appeared to be a pretty stout rushing defense. The bulk of those yards came in the form of 260 yards from Samson Evans, who was the dynamo which kept the Eagles offense afloat once it started to experience some adversity.

The Eastern Michigan line was able to open up the holes and Evans was able to exploit them. Even backup Jaylon Jackson scored a touchdown in the game in the time he found himself on the field.

The domination on the line showed at the end of the game, as Eastern Michigan was able to run the clock down after wearing down the Sun Devils over the first half of the game when they racked up their lead.

Creighton’s system seems to work better with a mobile quarterback

Taylor Powell went down fairly early in the game and Austin Smith was called up to do quarterback duties in his place, which incidentally revealed something: they were able to run the read option between him and Samson Evans, who did ultimately see the ball on handoffs from Smith the most.

If you look at the EMU teams of Creighton’s past, his offense seemed more effective with Reggie Bell and Brogan Roback. Even Preston Hutchinson, who departed for Chattanooga this offseason, found relative amounts of success in the Creighton offensive system as a dual-threat quarterback.

This is not to say Powell won’t find success. Rather, it’s only to say the system seems to operate in a more dynamic way when read option is a bigger threat. That was evident with Evans as a Wildcat in previous packages, and more apparent on Saturday when Smith was pressed into duties.

Eastern Michigan has a kicking game

Sometimes it helps improve morale to have a good field goal kicker and it looks like they might have that in Jesus Gomez. He was 3-of-3 on field goals, with a long from 40 yards out. I think when a team has a good field goal kicker, they don’t have to force things sometimes.

There were concerns about losing all-MAC kicker Chad Ryland to the transfer portal last season, and also after the last two weeks, where EMU did not attempt a single field goal. Safe to say some questions were answered with this debut in a hostile environment.

The multi-headed receiving game helps

Given that the running game was churning, Eastern Michigan didn’t have to rely on the pass as much. Even still, both quarterbacks were picking up on multiple receivers to keep the Sun Devil defense guessing. (This is, ultimately, the truest power of a balanced offensive attack.)

It’s seemingly a new list of guys every week as well, with Tanner Knue (three catches, 53 yards) and Gunnar Oakes (four catches, 25 yards) being the big contributors, while Hassan Beydoun turned his only catch into a score. Hopefully this balance will continue to be the case once.

I don’t really have a fifth thing. I was going to go on a rant about the coverage in the game on Saturday night but I’ll just savor the win. I like the fact that Eastern Michigan can beat Power Five teams consistently, it would be nice to see that translate to a MAC Championship. If they can keep playing like they did Saturday night, I don’t see why not.

But for now, they can fly the pirate flag, they earned it.

EMU will host the Buffalo Bulls in their first conference game this Saturday afternoon at noon Eastern.