EMU 41, Ball State 38 recap
That was a great effort by EMU to win the football game yesterday. After a rough start to the game, the Eagles finally came through and delivered the first win of the Ron English era. Gillett, in particular, played much better as the game wore on, and given the numbers he put up, I don’t see how he can fail to be the MACWDOPotW this week.
Offense: EMU’s offense was harder to get a handle on. Obviously, their 41 points were the most scored in nearly two years — the last game with that much scoring was EMU’s previous win, on November 28, 2008, over Central Michigan — and it almost matched the combined total from their previous three games. Obviously 489 yards and 8 touchdowns are enough to be competitive with almost any team (possibly exception: Oregon).
But with all that acknowledged, the offense had some problems.
Simply put, the EMU offense got this game off to a terrible start. Sean Graham missed a 33- and a 40-yard field goal in the first quarter. I believe he also missed a short 20-yarder in the fourth quarter (yes, if you did the math and realized that EMU had the ball on the Ball State 3, you are correct), but it was negated by a Ball State penalty, and EMU punched it in for a touchdown moments later. After the first two EMU series ended on missed field goals, the third series ended with a pair of incomplete passes (wow, that sounds familiar), the fourth series ended before it started with an interception. After that (more than a third of the way through the game) the Eagles’ offense got settled down, and their next five drives resulted in a touchdown, a touchdown, end of the first half, a touchdown, and a touchdown. At the end of that stretch, EMU had come back from being down 21-0 and 28-7 to tie the game at 28.
Let’s sum up the offense’s performance by saying that after playing piss-poor for the first third of the game, they played a great 40 minutes and overtime.
Defense: Some people have picked on the EMU defense since Ball State scored 38 points yesterday. I agree that, even though it’s 6 below EMU’s previous average (44.3), 38 points is still a lot to give up. But was that really on the defense?
Some basic math suggests otherwise. First, consider that a team scoring 38 points normally piles up about 450 to 500 yards. EMU’s defense held the Ball State offense to just 251 yards, nearly 100 yards below EMU’s next best game this year (345 allowed to Miami). 251 total yards normally gets a team 17 to 24 points. Ball State scored a touchdown for every 36 yards their offense gained yesterday. You don’t have to be a genius to realize that there’s something funny about those numbers.
If you start to take a closer look at how Ball State scored, it starts to become clear what happened. 7 of Ball State’s points came after an intercepted pass gave the Cardinals the ball on EMU’s side of the field. 7 more points came on Eric Williams’ 92-yard kickoff return. And 3 of the points came in overtime, when the EMU defense held Ball State to -2 yards in three plays. Subtract off those 17 points and Ball State would have had 21 points — right what their yardage would suggest.
Coming in to this game, Ball State was averaging 4.8 yards per carry, while EMU was allowing opponents to gain 5.8 yards per carry. Yesterday, the Eagles held the Cardinals to just 3.3 yards per carry. Coming in to this game, Ball State was averaging 5.1 yards per pass attempt, while EMU was allowing opponents to gain 9.1 yards per attempt. Yesterday, EMU held Ball State to 5.0 yards per pass attempt.
So despite the score falling at EMU’s median for points allowed, I think it’s fair to say this was the EMU defense’s best performance of the season.
Special teams: Four blown special teams plays nearly cost EMU the game, though one of them was negated due to a Ball State penalty. I’ve already mentioned them all: a missed 33-yard field goal, a missed 40-yard field goal, a missed 20-yard field goal, and allowing a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. But the Cardinals only managed one other kickoff return, for 16 yards; the other four EMU kickoffs went unreturned. EMU returned six Ball State kickoffs an average of 20 yards each.
As the score and the aforementioned missed field goals might suggest, EMU did not do much punting. In fact Jay Karutz only punted once, and he booted it 47 yards, though unfortunately, since EMU was on their own 10-yard line, that only moved the ball to near midfield. Neither team managed any punt returns to speak of.
Overall: This was a respectable performance from the Eagles, and respectability is something that’s been lacking in EMU football. It’s not a game to rest on or to be satisfied with, but for now, for today, it will do. As of today, there are two winless FBS teams, and Eastern Michigan is not one of them.