ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 17: Alex Gillett #8 from Eastern Michigan Eagles gets ready to hand the ball off to Javonti Greene #32 in the first quarter of the game against the University of Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan defeated Eastern Michigan 31-3. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
While the SB Nation world takeover has not extended into individual team blogs for most of the MAC, we do have an excellent uber-MAC blog that serves the same purpose as the Big Ten's own Off Tackle Empire. The Hustle Belt is the home of sweet Tuesday night MACtion on ESPN and 66-63 shootouts where defense is a myth. it is also the home of Saturday's opponent, the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
The Hustle Belt has just about one writer per team and Carter Adler handles things for EMU. He recently answered my questions about the 0-2 Eagles:
T-Mill: Eastern Michigan was a respectable 6-6 last year, but is obviously struggling so far. What has gone wrong?
Carter: Mostly the offensive line, which was really supposed to be the team's strength this year. Last year, although they occasionally struggled in pass-protection, they were a run-blocking machine, and with players accounting for 50 of last year's 60 starts, plus several experienced back-ups, returning, they should have only gotten better. Instead Illinois State's defenders spent all afternoon in the backfield, sacking Alex Gillett -- normally a very mobile quarterback -- three times, and hurrying him on another half-dozen plays.The pressure isn't helping Gillett's play any. After the Illinois State game, Ron English commented, "I think he got unnerved early. Their one rush end was up the field all the time...He started trying to do too much." That led to hesitant play and bad decision making (though in many cases, I wonder how much of the decision making was Gillett's and how much to attribute to offensive coordinator Ken Karcher).
Plus most of special teams (place kicking and kick/punt returns) have been...well...special. Kody Fulkerson deserves particular mention; he kicked an extra point last Saturday that just barely cleared the crossbar, and he was short -- well short -- on a 37-yard field goal attempt.
T-Mill: What needs to change to go from losing to an FCS to springing an upset over a Big Ten team.
Carter: Since Ron English compared this EMU team to the 2007 Michigan team, I'll run with that. After a stunning upset to Appalachian State and then getting rocked at home by Oregon, the Wolverines got things figured out and started playing up to their potential, running off eight straight wins. Preseason expectations were (relatively) high for the Eagles this year, with many fans thinking they'd at least be in contention for a MAC title; for the first time in many years I do think they have the talent and depth to compete in the MAC. But so far, they're not living up to the expectations. I'm sure Ron English can only hope that the similarities to the 2007 Wolverines stop just short of the head coach's career; unlike Lloyd Carr, English has a long ways to go before he's ready to retire.
T-Mill: Danny Hope is known for his MAC gaffes (Northern Illinois 2009 and Toledo 2010). Does that give you more confidence for Saturday?
Carter: Not really. Chandler Harnish and Austin Dantin are the dual-threat quarterbacks that EMU fans wish Gillett was, and thought he'd turn into. But he's never quite had the accuracy, nor the pass-blocking offensive line to give him time, nor the go-to receiver (ahem, Eric Page) who could bail him out. EMU might be almost there on each count, but almost times almost times almost equals not even close.
T-Mill: How can Eastern Michigan prepare for Purdue defensive line that is playing extremely well right now?
Carter: EMU is not really in a place where they need to be worrying about the other team, they need to worry about getting their own house in order. If EMU's offensive line can get their act together, I'm confident that they'd be capable of holding their own against most teams. English has all-but-said that he's not even looking for a win this week or next week (at Michigan State), he's just looking for improvement pointing toward a win when the Eagles return to MAC play on October 5.
T-Mill: What should Purdue fans worry about on Saturday?
Carter: If EMU's offensive line plays well, they're capable of opening incredible running lanes, with excellent down-field run-blocking by the receivers, and the Eagles have the backs to take full advantage of them.
If Gillett plays up to his ability -- for a three-game stretch late last year he was statistically one of the best quarterbacks in the country -- he can run all over you, and then when you try to stuff the box to stop the run he'll carve you up with his arm.
If the defense does what they've shown they're capable of, and doesn't get put in bad situations by the offense and special teams, they can be absolutely stifling. Last year, they held Northern Illinois, who averaged 42 points/game in the other 11 regular season games, to 18 (only Wisconsin's defense did better), and held Western Michigan to their season-low, 10 points (Michigan also held them to 10 points, but only played three quarters; their next-lowest total was 20 points at Illinois).
If, if, if...
T-Mill: Care to offer a prediction?