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Know thy Opponent 2018: Eastern Michigan Eagles

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Ain’t no party like an Ypsi Party!

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Northern Illinois Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Last season was a return to normalcy of some sorts. The annual Big Ten-MAC challenge is just part of football in the Midwest. Even as the MAC teams have improved, it has a big brother/little brother feel to it. Most teams have a MAC team on the schedule and while the smaller conference usually takes a game or two, it is normally a sign that the losing Big Ten team is going to struggle.

That was the case for Purdue over the last 20 years. Joe Tiller’s teams often took care of business against the MAC. While he dropped the first game of his tenure at Toledo in 1997, Tiller was 14-2 against the league. He lost only that Toledo game (and we went on to finish hat season 9-3) and a 27-26 game to Bowling Green in 2003 (where we went on to finish 9-4 and that Bowling Green team was 11-3).

Danny Hope struggled more. He was only 4-2 in his four years, but that included a 54-16 win over our second 2018 opponent in Eastern Michigan. His teams failed to reach a bowl game in the years where it lost to a MAC team. Then there was Darrell Hazell, who lost more games (3) to MAC teams at Purdue than he did in his final season at Kent State (1). His paltry 1-3 record did include probably the best win of his tenure, a 43-34 win over a PJ Fleck coached Western Michigan (who finished 8-5) to start the 2014 season.

Last season Brohm restored order. Not only did he get Purdue to a bowl game, he had us back dominating MAC teams again. The 44-21 home opening win over Ohio was a breath of fresh air. The Bobcats were actually a pretty good MAC team, as they went 9-4, beat a Major conference team in Kansas, and won a bowl game. It was the type of opponent that Hope might have lost to and Hazell definitely would have lost to. Instead, Purdue won comfortably for the first win of the Brohm era.

Eastern Michigan is the last MAC program we have on the schedule until at least 2021 (there is one spot open there). While overall our 2018 slate is one of the toughest in America, this SHOULD be a relatively easy one.

Eastern Michigan Eagles

2017 Record: 5-7, 3-5 MAC

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Hustle Belt

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 2-0

Last Purdue win: 54-16 at Purdue on 9/15/2012

Last Eastern Michigan win: None

Head Coach: Chris Creighton (15-34 in 5th season at EMU)

Last Season for the Eagles:

There is a bit of a tie-in here with Eastern Michigan. Chris Creighton is entering his 5th season in Ypsilanti and he took them to the Bahamas bowl after the 2016 season. It was EMU’s first bowl game in 29 years and just their second ever. He only has a 15-34 overall record, but the fact they made a bowl game despite being one of the worst FBS teams historically is impressive.

Creighton’s tie-in with Purdue comes from the Boilermakers’ first ever rival. From 2001-2007 Creighton was coach at Wabash College, amassing a 63-15 record that included three Division III playoff appearances. In 2002 and 2005 he even had an undefeated regular season. Purdue and Wabash were pretty strong rivals in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but have not played since 1928. We lead the overall series 19-8-2, but this is a transitive way to revive the series.

Last season was a rough one for EMU. They were 5-7, but lost three games in overtime. That included a 27-20 double OT loss to the same Ohio team we beat. They also had a 1 point loss at Army, a 5 point loss at Toledo, and a 4 point loss at Kentucky. They were pretty much in every game, but had bad luck.

They also scored a 16-13 win at Rutgers, giving them their first ever win over a Power 5 school. It ended an 0-59 run against the Power 5 and an 0-39 run against the Big Ten. I would say, “but yeah, it is just Rutgers”, but we did lose at Rutgers.

Eastern Michigan Offense

The strength of the EMU offense is in the running game. Ian Eriksen (805 yards, 8 TDs), and Shaq Vann (520 yards, 3 TDs) are a pair of experienced running backs to build around. Vann is a big back at 5’10”, 220 pounds while Eriksen is slightly smaller at 5’10”, 210. Both have more than 1,000 yards rushing in their careers.

Isaac Stiebeling will possibly take over as the new quarterback. Last season he had 8 completions on 17 attempts for 49 yards as a reserve. He takes over for Brogan Roback, who had 2,890 yards last season. Stiebeling is a former three-star recruit, but since EMU opens against Monmouth Purdue will be his first real test. Tyler Wiegers, a grad transfer from Iowa, could also play.

The passing game also took a hit with the top four receivers leaving. Matthew Sexton (26-357-2) is the top returning receiver, but it is a mostly green group. There is a trio of JuCo players that were brought in to help. Michael Thompson, Arthur Jackson III, tight end Thomas Odukoya are expected to be major contributors.

What should help a lot is the return of the entire offensive line according to the SB Nation preview:

Eriksen and Vann are both back for their senior campaigns, and every lineman — including five seniors with a combined 70 career starts — return as well. Coordinator Aaron Keen wants to lean on the run game if he can, and there’s a chance he can.

Eastern Michigan Defense

Last year’s defense for the Eagles was actually pretty good. They ranked 44th nationally in the S&P rankings. They gave up just 280 points, which was a 24-year program low. Maxx Crosby is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line. He had 11 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss last year. He was an all-MAC selection last season and is rising on a lot of draft boards for the 2020 NFL Draft. Jeremiah Harris had 6 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss on the other end, giving them a pretty formidable front.

The middle of the defense is also good with Kyle Rachwal. He had 67 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss last season from his MLB spot. The Eagles will run more of a 4-2-5 look, which also plays to the strength of their secondary:

The secondary appears well-manned as well. Neathery works out of a 4-2-5 structure, which means you better defend the pass well, and EMU was decent in that regard. They allowed a 62 percent completion rate over the final 10 games of the season, but opponents averaged under 12 yards per completion. You could dink and dunk, but if you got aggressive and looked downfield, you either threw an incompletion or got sacked.

Juniors Brody Hoying and Vince Calhoun lead the way in the back. Calhoun roamed the back, and Hoying was the team’s third-best play-maker after Crosby and Harris, combining four TFLs, four passes defensed, and four forced fumbles.

Free safety Juan Giraldo is gone, but the return of Ikie Calderon from injury should mitigate that issue. Calderon was a major role player in 2016, and EMU’s best two pass-defending games of 2017 (sans Army, which went 0-for-5 passing but is Army) came in the first two weeks, before he got hurt.

Eastern Michigan Special Teams

Paulie Fricano was 15 of 18 on field goals and generally pretty reliable, but the three misses cost them a bowl bid since they came in close losses to Western Michigan, Toledo, and Northern Illinois. Jake Julien was also solid as their punter at 42.6 yards per kick.

There was pretty much nothing of note in the return game last year.

Game Outlook

We do not have many easy ones this coming season. We’re the only Power 5 team in America that plays two Power 5 opponents out of conference (Missouri and Boston College). In our league schedule we get Indiana, Ohio State, and Michigan State as crossover opponents, so that is not a favor. Illinois is likely the closest thing we have to an easy conference game. Everything else is going to be tough.

This should still be an easier game though. The entire passing game is new and the running game, while decent for the MAC, does not put forth eye-popping numbers. EMU features a strong defense and is hoping to win a lot of 24-20 games. They may be hard pressed to do that against a fully armed and operational Brohmfense.

Way-too-early Prediction

I think we cruise in this one. EMU will stick around for a while, but I don’t think they have the offensive firepower to hang with us for four quarters. This could be a game that is close at halftime, but Purdue pulls away late. Purdue 41, Eastern Michigan 13