Did you leave this week of MAC football feeling a bit, I don't know, unsurprised? If so, that's just fine because we feel exactly the same way. Toledo and Western Michigan have seemingly cleared their toughest hurdles before facing off on November 25th, and the rest of the MAC standings have settled into their rightful place. In a sense, everyone is exactly who we thought they were going into the week - except for Miami, who I'm sure nobody would attach "team that scored 40 points" to their description. This week we'd like to take the opportunity to discuss some things that maybe you haven't been paying a lot of attention to.
Justin - WMU Wide Receivers Not Named Corey Davis
Obviously when discussing the Western Michigan receiving corps the conversation begins and ends with Corey Davis. And that's how it should be when you're one of the best pass catchers in the entire country and are quickly approaching school, conference and NCAA records. But isn't it funny how we've all kind of forgotten about the absence of Daniel Braverman? Before the season began, you knew which names were on the depth chart, but not which one would step up. Would it be Carrington Thompson, the senior from Houston, Texas? Would it be Michael Henry from Flint, Michigan taking over the workload? If you guessed both, then congratulations, you're exactly right.
Thompson is the Broncos' second leading receiver after his eight catch, 177 yards and two touchdown evening against Eastern Michigan, and his ability to get open for passes down the field is a huge reason the Bronco offense remains potent even while Davis is fighting off double coverage each week. Thompson averages 17.8 yards per catch, which leads the team, and is also second on the team with four receiving touchdowns. Early on in the season, Thompson was good for just two or three catches per game, but his role is evolving in the WMU offense as you can see from the Eastern Michigan game.
Michael Henry is one of Zach Terrell's more consistent targets - he has just one game where he caught fewer than four passes - with 40 receptions on the season, just nine fewer than Davis. Don't think it's just Thompson and Davis that can take over games, either. Against Georgia Southern, Henry caught eight passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns, including one from 37 yards out.
Justin - EMU's defense
Times, they are a-changin'. A nobel prize winner sang that once, you know. Today that phrase applies to Eastern Michigan football in a way none of us thought possible. The Eagles are 5-3, and though they lost to rival WMU on Saturday, they did hold a lead at Waldo Stadium, something no team has done this year. It's the small things.
What isn't small is the improvement of EMU's defense. That's right, EMU is making strides on the side of the football you might least expect. Here's the comparison between EMU's 2015 defense* and the 2016 defense through 8 weeks of play:
Statistic Value MAC Rank Value MAC Rank Points 42.1 12 30.4 8 Total Yds 519.3 12 425.8 7 Yds Per Play 7.0 12 5.5 5 Passing Yds 202.8 2 283 10 Rushing Yds 316.6 12 142.8 3 Yds Per Rush 6.5 12 3.7 2 First Downs 26.8 12 25.4 10 Penalties 6.0 10 6.1 7 Takeaways 1.0 12 1.9 3
Yds Per Play
Yds Per Rush
EMU caused a ton of trouble for WMU's vaunted offense this weekend, and they were able to do so by throwing the Broncos out of balance by disrupting the run. A unit that gave up 6.5 yards per carry a year ago is now stifling opposing rushers at 3.7 yards per carry. That's a huge improvement, and it allows the Eagles to win close games and control the line of scrimmage.
You might be thinking, hey, the passing defense has gotten way worse, what gives? Well, the pass defending was probably awful last year too, but would you really throw against a defense giving you 6.5 yards on the ground? Probably not. Things are different this year. You have to beat the Eagles through the air, or else you won't beat them.
It's not like this defense should strike absolute terror into MAC offenses just yet, but it is disruptive, and I think we haven't spent enough time here giving credit to the Eagle defensive front. This defense is now picking its own poison, instead of letting the opposition select it for them. If Chris Creighton can bring in some strong defensive players on the recruiting trail, you could be looking at the MAC's best defense in a year or two.
Kaleb - Miller Time
Bowling Green: The success of a couple parts of the BG offensive machine have made the Falcons' MAC East games watchable despite the fact that the squad is still winless in conference play.
Sophomore stud Scott Miller in particular has been taking defensive backs hostage this year. Are non-BG fans even aware of his existence? Admittedly it took me a few weeks of outstanding play from the 5-10 165 pound receiver to take notice.
Against EMU, he grabbed 11 passes for 148. Against Toledo? Eight receptions for 149 yards and three TDs. Miami? 11 receptions for 178 yards and two trips to pay dirt.
Miller is becoming the guy in your pass-heavy air raid offense on the NCAA Football video game who you target every other play. He is far and away the team leader in receptions (MAC leader with 58), yards (798) touchdowns (9), all-purpose yards (1099) and like 27 other things.
While the BG offense isn't exactly "Falcon Fast" the Falcons do lead the MAC East in points per game since conference play started. Miller is a huge part of that.
Kaleb - The play of the Ohio defensive line
Homer time. Going into the season, Ohio fans knew that the defensive line was probably going to be the strength of this squad. What we didn't know was how disruptive the Bobcats would prove.
Three Ohio players, Tarell Basham, Casey Sayles and Kevin Robbins, are among the top 11 in the conference in sacks. Basham leads the MAC in sacks with eight, as he has surged to be arguably the best pass-rusher in the MAC at the moment.
The Bobcats' run defense is best in the conference due to the complementary nature of the strong defensive line and talented linebackers like Quentin Poling, Blair Brown and crew. Ohio's scoring defense is third-best. The secondary leaves a bit to be desired, but it would be getting burned repeatedly were it not for the talent and depth on the Bobcat line.