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EMU relative to the MAC, by the numbers

September 29, 2011

Over the past few weeks I’ve suggested that after playing Howard, Alabama State, Michigan, and Penn State, EMU would be like the statistician who lay with his head in the oven and his feet in the freezer (on average, he was fine). I think those four teams average out to something like mid-MAC quality. Just to verify that I’m not off-base with this belief, I averaged the Sagarin rankings for the four opponents (24.27, 47.26, 85.32, and 83.22), which comes to 60.02. MAC average is 62.06, so it’s reasonably close. I think it’s now safe to look ahead and try to predict EMU’s performance in the MAC based on their statistical performance to date. The caveat is that while EMU’s opponents are collectively about MAC average, that’s not necessarily true of the opponents of other MAC teams. Toledo, for example, has faced New Hampshire (63.94), Ohio State (78.67), Boise State (92.93) and Syracuse (69.37), for an average of 76.23, close to the PAC-12 average of 76.38.

: EMU’s offense is mid-MAC quality…barely. EMU is averaging 16.0 points per game, 10th in the conference and ahead of Central Michigan, Akron, and Kent State. In total yards per game, the Eagles are 9th with 336.0, ahead of the same three teams plus Miami. The offense unfortunately leads the MAC in just one category, penalty yards, though an enormous chunk of that came in the Alabama State game.

It should be no surprise to anyone that EMU’s passing game is one of the worst in the MAC. Obviously it’s been little-used — only Temple takes fewer passes (barely) and no MAC team has fewer completions — but it’s also one of the least efficient, averaging just 5.27 yards per pass attempt, ahead of only Kent State (an appalling 3.18) and 113th nationally. The completion percentage of 51.9% puts them in 10th, ahead of Central Michigan, Kent State, and Akron. The passing touchdown to interception ratio is 10th, tied with Kent State (also 3/4) and ahead of Miami (2/4) and Central Michigan (4/8). Although EMU has only given up 7 sacks (tied for 6th best), they’ve had so few pass attempts that on a pass attempts per sack basis they’re 11th (ahead of Akron and, surprisingly, Temple).

EMU’s running game, on the other hand, leads the MAC in total yards (937) and yards per game (234.3). It’s also a reasonably effective run offense, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, second in the MAC behind Northern Illinois (5.6) and 23rd nationally. Where EMU lags is in converting all those yards into touchdowns, since the Eagles are averaging just one rushing touchdown per game.

On a conference-wide scale, no individual performers in the passing game are worth mentioning. Dominique Sherrer has the highest yards per carry average of any regular ball carrier in the MAC (more than 2 carries per game) at 7.2, though remember that he only played against Howard and Alabama State, not against Michigan and Penn State, so I don’t think that’s necessarily a fair number. Javonti Greene is averaging a very respectable 5.3 yards per carry and averages 87.5 yards per game.

On the whole, EMU’s offense is probably better than Central Michigan, Kent State, Akron, and possibly Miami and Buffalo. Fortunately, the Eagles will not face any of the top offenses from the East Division (Bowling Green, Ohio, and Temple), so they will have four games in which the offense should be adequate without significant improvement.

Defense: EMU’s defense is significantly improved over the past two years. This was obvious to watch them, but the stats bear it out. The Eagles rank #5 in scoring defense, allowing 20.3 points per game. In yards allowed per game, they’re 7th — exactly in the middle of the MAC — with 340.8. It just happens that the three best defensive teams in the East Division, both by scoring and by yards, are the three best offensive teams, and again, EMU won’t face any of them this year. Since before the season started, I’ve been saying that EMU is lucky in their inter-divisional matchups, and I’m going to keep banging that drum until I punch a hole in it. The worst defenses include some of the usual suspects (Akron, Kent State, Central Michigan), but also some surprises that may be skewed by schedule strength (Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Ball State).

EMU’s run defense, the worst in the nation over the past two years, is now mid-MAC quality. The Eagles allow an average of 4.2 yards per carry, 8th in the MAC, but have only allowed two rushing touchdowns. Once again, EMU will not play any of the top three MAC run defenses (Temple, Ohio, and Bowling Green). EMU’s pass defense, surprisingly, is also statistically mid-MAC. The teams at the top and the bottom again match to overall defensive rankings.

Special Teams: EMU’s kickoff return (19.53 yards per return) and punt return (8.00 yards per return) are mid-MAC, but the kickoff and punt coverage units are among the best in the conference, allowing 14.38 yards per kickoff return (2nd in the MAC) and 4.00 yards per punt return (4th in the MAC) allowed. Punt distance itself is about MAC average, though Jay Karutz’s ability is certainly a factor in the coverage numbers.

Overall: Although I’d like to see a better passing game, the numbers suggest that this team should be able to beat Akron, Kent State, Buffalo, and Central Michigan, and Ball State may be within reach. Toledo only looks beatable if you ignore the quality of the opponents they’ve played. Although I’ve had my doubts the last few weeks, I still think this team can win three or four MAC games.

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