EMU 41, Howard 9 recap
It feels good to start the season by recapping a winning game, and it feels even better to have had it come in Rynearson Stadium!
Offense: As we expected, EMU got things done on the ground, with 326 net yards on 43 carries, an average of 7.6 yards per carry. The running attack was extremely balanced, with Javonti Greene and Dominique Sherrer each netting 120 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries (8.6 yards per carry) and Alex Gillett adding 76 yards and a touchdown (nearly all in the two scoring drives late in the second quarter) on 13 carries. Sherrer had a few good carries, most notably a 77-yard touchdown on the second snap after halftime; Greene had more good carries, but none as long.
EMU did not do a huge amount of passing, but what there was left a lot to be desired, particularly when you consider the opponent. Gillett completed 12 of 21 passes (57%) for 115 yards (5.47 per attempt), two touchdowns, and an interception, which is not too shabby, but I had hoped for better accuracy given the quality of the opponent. The interception did come on EMU’s very first offensive play, so perhaps we can chalk that up to needing to shake off the off-season rust and getting settled down for a postponed game. A lot of the passing inaccuracy was really the fault of the offensive line; the pass protection was absolutely terrible, Gillett was getting hurried constantly, and several times he had to throw the ball away quickly to avoid a sack.
Defense: EMU only allowed 9 points, which is sufficient defense to win most games, but EMU’s defense actually played better than that. Howard’s defense scored their only touchdown, on the interception of EMU’s first offensive play, so the Eagle defense only actually allowed 3 points. That’s really about all you can ask of any defense. From the start of the second quarter through the middle of the third, EMU absolutely shut down Howard’s offense, allowing a net of 13 yards on six possessions, and immediately negating 10 of those yards with a nice interception by Marlon Pollard in his first game for the Eagles.
I only saw one defensive play that EMU truly blew (I’m not sure who messed up, though), when, coming out of a Howard timeout with 4:53 left in the first quarter, Terrence Leffall ran for 41 yards, before Latarrius Thomas tackled him from behind to prevent the touchdown. Speaking of tackles, I have to add that I saw some very good tackling by the Eagles. Justin Cudworth was all over the place, leading EMU with 13 tackles (five solo), 3.5 tackles for losses (14 yards), and a share of a sack, and Latarrius Thomas, Herb Waits, and Brad Ohrman also had good tackles that I noticed. This looked nothing like the terrible defense the Eagles have fielded the last two years.
Special teams: Kody Fulkerson was 2-3 on field goals, making them from 31 and 45 yards early in the game, but missing a 37-yarder early in the fourth quarter. Jay Karutz’s punting and the punt coverage continued to be solid, starting the Bison at the 20 (touchback — the coverage team was just too late to stop the ball from bouncing into the end zone), the 20 (returner tackled at the 30; 10 yard penalty against Howard), and the 9 (downed). Meanwhile Howard averaged 13.4 yards on their 8 kickoff returns.
Overall: On the whole, this was not a bad game for the Eagles, particularly given the circumstances (postponement from Saturday night). The defense, in particular, looked much improved, even considering the quality of the opponent. The running backs and special teams also look like they’ll be bright points this season.
My biggest concern is EMU’s offensive line, which I had hoped might be a strength this year. For them to be this bad against Howard makes me fear for Gillett’s health when the Eagles travel to Ann Arbor and to Happy Valley, and wonder if EMU might only manage three or four wins this year (which I would consider a failure). On the other hand, if — and given how they looked yesterday, it’s a big “if” — the offensive line improves, this team is good enough at running back and special teams, and improved enough on defense, that six or seven wins might not be out of the question.