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EMU v. Western Michigan preview

October 21, 2011

Western Michigan has the #5 scoring offense in the MAC, which doesn’t sound hugely different from EMU’s #8 scoring offense, until you look at the actual numbers and see that there’s a huge gap between #6 (Bowling Green) and #7 (Central Michigan). To be precise, the Broncos average 31.0 poings per game, while EMU averages just 20.9. The gap is clear when you look at the national rankings, where Western Michigan is #46 and EMU is #101. The Broncos average 406 yards per game. They pass on 55% of plays and run 45%. They also get a lot more done on passes, averaging 7.3 yards per attempt, but just 4.1 yards per carry.

Alex Carder at quarterback is the fuel that fires Western Michigan’s offensive machine. In their four wins this year his passer rating was 175.59 (122.95 on the NFL scale), while in their three losses it was 133.34 (75.96 on the NFL scale). He’s not someone who’s going to tuck the ball and run the way Alex Gillett does — he’s “carried” the ball 73 times this year for a net loss of 48 yards — but he is a very accurate passer, ranking 16th in the nation in completion percentage. Even in Western Michigan’s losses, Carder completed 63% of his passes, and in the four wins he completed 72%. The biggest difference between the wins and losses, however, is the percent of pass attempts that went for a touchdown: 2.5% (the same as the percent of interceptions) in losses, but 9.8% in the wins.

If those numbers made your eyes glaze over, the takeaway is that he’s a fantastic passer, one of the three best in the MAC (together with Toledo’s Austin Dantin and Northern Illinois’s Chandler Harnish). Call him the anti-Denard/Gillett; maybe it’s an east Michigan/west Michigan thing.

Carder’s top target, by far, is senior Jordan White, who leads the MAC in catches, catches per game, yards, yards per game, and touchdowns. In fact, the only receiving stat in which he doesn’t lead the MAC is yards per catch, where he is averaging “only” 11.67. He averages 11 catches per game, which is nearly half the Broncos’ total. At 6’0″ and 211 pounds he’s bigger than most of EMU’s defensive backs — according to the roster only Latarrius Thomas, Pudge Cotton, and Bryan Pali are that big — which makes him hard to guard and hard to tackle in space. Other top targets are Robert Arnheim, Chleb Ravenell, and Eric Monette.

Tevin Drake began the season as the primary running back for the Broncos, but lately he seems to be splitting snaps with Brian Fields. Also worth mentioning is Antoin Scriven, who serves exclusively as a short-yardage back. He’s only carried 14 times for 22 yards (1.6 yards per carry), but has run for four touchdowns and caught another short touchdown (2 yards). It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Western Michigan has no running game, but I think that 1) EMU can stuff it, but 2) the Broncos can win without it.

Western Michigan’s defense shows strong parallels to their offense. They do a respectable job of taking away opponents’ passing games, allowing 6.6 yards per attempt, and just 6 passing touchdowns allowed while collecting 5 interceptions. Their run defense…not so much. They allow 217 yards rushing per game, 111th in the country and last in the MAC, and they allow 5.94 yards per carry, 119th (ahead of only Kansas). Suffice to say that Greene, or White, or Sherrer, or Brumfield, or Gillett, or all of the above are likely to have a field day — this may look a lot like what we saw last week.

In the end, the game plan for each team is simple. Eastern needs to just run and run and run on offense (and then run some more). On defense, the Eagles need to fix whatever went wrong in their secondary late in the game against Central Michigan. They can’t allow the Western Michigan receivers to get that kind of separation. The Broncos don’t have a great offensive line, so one key for the EMU defense will be to put constant pressure on Carder, which may have an added impact since he’s not a great rushing quarterback. Western Michigan does run a pass-first offense — always have under Bill Cubit — but it’s a dink-and-dunk more similar to a West Coast than an Air Raid, so the primary defensive goal should be to disrupt timing and force incompletions by pressuring Carder, by bumping recievers off their routes, and by playing close coverage. If EMU can do all that, and it’s a big “if”, they can win this game.

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