Army 31, EMU 27 game review
Once each year, fans pack fill show up at Rynearson Stadium. Once each year, EMU is undefeated. Once each year hopes are high.
Then the season starts.
Last night was an odd game, for a number of reasons. First, there was simply a massive amount of rushing. 594 yards, to be exact, with just 96 yards of passing. That’s enough for EMU to rank 14th in the nation in rushing yards after one week (first in the MAC), and as individual rushers, Dwayne Priest ranks 12th nationally (1st in the MAC) with 142 net yards and 2 touchdowns, while Alex Gillett ranks 17th nationally (2nd in the MAC) with 126 net yards and a touchdown. Army, meanwhile, comes out 9th nationally in rushing yards, but spread it around more, with four players running for at least 60 yards but none reaching 100.
Neither team particularly cared to pass the ball. Gillett finished the game 4 for 9 for 31 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, and depending on where you look, a quarterback rating of either 87.8 (which would be his career high) or 50.9 — not good either way. Trent Steelman wasn’t much better for the Black Knights, going 5 of 11 for 65 yards, good for a rating of 95.1. That put EMU and Army at 119 and 116, respectively, in passing offense. Can you say “one-dimensional”?Time, and more games, will tell if EMU and Army are really that good on the ground, or if they’re both just that bad at defending the run. Last year, of course, the Eagles had the worst rushing defense in the country, but Army was middle-of-the-pack in this regard. Army’s 2009 rushing offense was 17th in the country, while EMU was 90th, so the fact the we were able to hang with the Black Knights on the ground suggests to me that the Eagles’ ground game — on both sides of the ball — is significantly improved.
Another interesting aspect of last night’s game were the scoreboard and lighting issues. Early in the second quarter, the lights on the west (pressbox) side of the stadium, as well as the new scoreboard at the north end, went out. The sky was still light, but play stopped for about 12 minutes, before resuming with only the east lights. The west lights gradually came back on, but the scoreboard and public address system were done for the night. During the third quarter, a small portable scoreboard was wheeled out, just north of the north end zone, and it was used to keep time for the fourth quarter. It was a different experience watching college football with no scoreboard and no announcer; it forces you to pay closer attention to the game than you might otherwise, and it’s probably tough on the casual fan. Personally, I enjoyed it, although I don’t know that I’d want to watch every game that way!
I was very disappointed not to say Devontae Payne get any snaps. I think the presence of a legitimate passing threat in EMU’s offense really might have changed the game. As it was, Army had no reason to respect the Eagles’ passing attack, and they were free to crowd the box and focus on the running game. No doubt, Gillett is a legitimate rushing threat, but he’s as bad a passer now as he was at the end of 2009, when he closed out the season with seven interceptions in the final three games. I really think English is limiting the team’s options by leaving Payne on the bench; he would force opposing defenses to respect the EMU passing game, and could open up more room for the running game. English is apparently satisfied with the passing game, saying:
“We had success running it. That dictated us not throwing if we didn’t have to,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to throw the ball. We’ve shown that in practice. That isn’t a big issue, and we’d probably like to throw it more next week if the game dictates it.”
All else considered, this was a game EMU could have won, but as they did against Army last year, they killed themselves with turnovers. A Dwayne Priest fumble on EMU’s 10-yard line set up Army’s touchdown in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Gillett threw an interception near mid-field that lead to another Army touchdown. In the third quarter, Kelip Goodwin fumbled a kick return on EMU’s side of the field that set up Army’s field goal. If EMU continues to give opponents 17 points off turnovers, this season will look an awful lot like 2009.
One other disappointing aspect was the attendance, which was just 11,318, more than 3,000 fewer people than attended the same game in 2009. That bodes very poorly for EMU’s efforts to reach an average of 15,000 per game, required by the NCAA to stay in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
But neither the passing game, nor the rushing defense, nor the power issues, nor the turnovers, nor the attendance were the low point of the night. That came just before the opening kickoff, when the Army band struck up “The Hey Song” as the EMU Marching Band was playing The Star Spangled Banner. Of all the bands in the country, I would have expected Army’s band to display more respect for our country than that.