Eastern Michigan takes the hop over Lake Michigan to Minneapolis to play their first-ever game against the Minnesota Gophers. When they arrive at Huntington Bank Stadium, they will find a familiar face in the form of former Western Michigan coach, P.J. Fleck. They are 1-3 against P.J. Fleck all-time, but that shouldn’t matter since that was an almost different era.
The Eagles are coming off a 33-23 win against the Howard Bison. In that game, they got three scores from their special teams. One of them was a safety when the ball went through the endzone during a punt. Two of them came on returns, with Jaylon Jackson returning a kickoff for a score and Hamze El-Zayat returning a safety punt for six.
More orthodox scores were admittedly hard to find, as the other two touchdowns were a Samson Evans two-yard punch and a 20-yard pass from Austin Smith to Tanner Knue.
Eastern Michigan appeared to be cruising to victory in the first half, but 14 points scored by Howard in the third quarter made it a little close for comfort. Eastern Michigan was able to add a field goal for safety in the fourth quarter and a brilliant defensive stand shut down the Bison to complete the victory.
Austin Smith was 19-of-28 for 175 yards, one interception and one touchdown. Samson Evans gained 55 yards on the ground, while Tanner Knue gained 73 yards in the air. Eastern Michigan will have some mild concerns going into this contest, having gained only gained 285 total yards of offense while allowing 194 yards in the air and 204 yards on the ground to an FCS program.
The Golden Gophers are coming off a 13-10 win against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but had some uncharacteristic struggles of their own on offense. The Golden Gophers were 24-of-44 for 196 yards in the air with one interception and one touchdown and only had 75 yards on the ground. They were able to create havoc defensively, however, with three interceptions and three sacks, allowing just 329 total yards.
I think the keys to this game will revolve around both teams establishing the run game. If Eastern Michigan can get Samson Evans and Jaylon Jackson going, they might have a chance against the Gophers. Also, Eastern Michigan needs to get pressure to the Golden Gophers quarterback. The fact that Eastern Michigan has fairly experienced lines on both sides of the ball will help.
I don’t like to make predictions but Minnesota seems to be roughly the caliber of Big 10 team that the Creighton coached Eagles have beaten three times now. I think it will be a close game because all the other ones have and I think it will come down to a field goal again.