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2023 Eastern Michigan Eagles Positional Previews: Offensive skill positions

Get ready for a lot of Samson Evans! (And a lot of other experienced returnees.)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Central Michigan at Eastern Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Eastern Michigan returns a fair amount of experience at the offensive skill positions in 2023, a very positive sign for an offense which had accelerated growth from prior campaigns. The Eagles averaged nearly 30 points a game, 141 rush yards per game and 223 passing yards per game last season, utilizing an effective, time-consuming attack in tandem with a ferocious situational defense to come with two minutes of winning the MAC West title.

Considering last season was the most competitive season in Ypsilanti in 35 years, the expectations are pretty high.

At least three returning players at the skill positions are grad students and with the exception of one, all have had some experience in playing at Eastern Michigan. They are coming off a season where they averaged almost 30 points per game, 141 rushing yards per game and 223 passing yards per game. While they lose some key players from last year in the form of Taylor Powell, Hassan Beydoun and Dylan Drummond, there’s still plenty of talent returning.

Junior quarterback Austin Smith gets his chance to play in the spotlight with the departure of Powell, who is currently a CFL starter as a rookie. Smith played in nine games last year, with his first start and touchdown in their win over Arizona State. Smith was 68-for-119 for 774 yards and six touchdowns in 2022, msotly in relief for Powell, though it should be noted he did also have four interceptions. He is also a pretty decent threat to run, as he ran for 255 yards on 61 attempts.

Two of the three wide receivers that are slated to start for Eastern Michigan played last season. The most prominent of the returnees is graduate student Tanner Knue (632 yards, nine touchdowns) last season. J.B. Mitchell is expected to step up into a bigger role after several offseason departures at the positions after six game appearances, primarily on special teams, in 2022. The new name to look for is Hamze El-Zayat, formerly of Fordham (FCS). El-Zayat, a Dearborn, Michigan native, transferred in during spring camps in 2022 and did not play due to transfer rules. The former three-year starter led the Rams with 40 receptions and 400 yards in 2021 prior to his transfer.

Andreas Paskse returns at tight end. Last year, he played in 13 games and caught 206 yards for two touchdowns. He is joined by Max Reese, who did not play last year.

In recent years, there have been concerns about depth at the running back position outside of their main starter in graduate student Samson Evans, who returns for his final season. The 2022 campaign was a good one, as he rushed for 1,166 yards in 249 attempts, scoring 15 touchdowns. In the win against Arizona State, he rushed for 258 yards on his own. This season, EMU looks to finally have found a great complimentary back in former Lamar transfer Jaylon Jackson. Jackson played in all thirteen games last season, and ran for 425 yards with two touchdowns. I think these two running backs bring a lethal combination to the back field.

Like I said, Eastern Michigan is experienced on offense and they came pretty close to earning a spot in Detroit last year. They may be hungry for that.

This is the fourth of six entries in a series of Eastern Michigan football previews. Please look forward to the next edition! If you missed any of our previous pieces, please check out our preseason previews storystream here.

EMU’s season kicks off Friday, Sept. 1st at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where they are set to play the Howard Bison [FCS].