EMU 30, Buffalo 17 recap
In his post-game comments, Ron English referred to this team as “still rebuilding”, still a work in progress.
I agree. I think this team is two solid years away from become perennial MAC Championship contenders.
Yesterday, Senior Day, was the last home game for 16 senior football players.
Barring a catastrophe in the last two games — always possible against Northern Illinois — this team is on pace for EMU’s best defensive performance since 1993, allowing 24.6 points per game.
The problem is that 12 of those 16 seniors play defense, and almost all of them are names you know, players who make meaningful contributions game after game. Guys like Latarrius Thomas, Willie Williams, Martavius Cardwell, Nate Paopao, Nate Wilson, Marcus English, Herb Waits, Javon Reese, Brad Ohrman, Jabar Westerman, Brandon Slater, Jasper Grimes. That’s an entire defensive squad, of whom five are currently starters and five more are the top substitutes. In particular, it’s three of four safeties.
All this is by way of observing that the EMU defense played a solid game yesterday, and they really came on strong toward the end of the game, holding the Bulls scoreless for the final 21:35, producing the first double-digit win of the Ron English era (the first by EMU against an FBS opponent since 2007 and just the second in nearly six years), but that we need to prepare ourselves for the possibility the defense takes a small step backward in 2012. They’ve held their opponents to 17 or fewer points in three of the last five games.
Meanwhile, the EMU offense has now managed at least 30 points in three of the last four and four of the last six games. If you’d asked me at this time last year — heck, if you’d asked me in late-August — I don’t think I’d have predicted that EMU’s offense or defense would be as good as they are.
As I mentioned, yesterday was a double-digit win, which is something that’s been uncommon for EMU. Obviously a lot of things went right, and a lot of athletes had big performances to make that happen. Rather than a full game recap, I just want to highlight a few of those good performances.
Alex Gillett: This is a big one. I know when to admit that I was wrong, and I was wrong about Gillett. We all knew that he could run the ball well, so it’s no surprise that over the last two games (the month of November) he’s the MAC’s #4 ball carrier, with 37 carries for 215 yards. What has surprised an awful lot of people — myself included — is that he’s also completed 22 of 32 passes for 430 yards, eight touchdowns, and no (none!) interceptions. Just in case you’re wondering, that’s an NCAA passer rating of 264.13, and an NFL passer rating of 151.0, which is absolutely ridiculous. That makes him statistically the top quarterback in the MAC so far this month, and (I don’t have all the numbers yet) one of the — if not THE — top quarterbacks in the nation. Of course, that’s just a two-game span, and EMU’s opponents, Ball State and Buffalo, aren’t exactly the greatest defenses, but still, it’s remarkable progress.
Over the last few games Gillett has been playing much more decisively. More often lately, when he decides to run, he does tuck the ball an run, rather than making a protracted scramble, looking downfield, that eventually turns into a one-yard run, an incompletion, or an interception. Gillett’s improved decisiveness, plus better pass-protection from the offensive line (finally!) have contributed to his not being sacked in the last 130 minutes of play, going back to early in the fourth quarter against Western Michigan. In fact, after being sacked 12 times through the first six games, he’s only gone down twice in the four games since then. We’re also seeing a lot fewer on-target passes dropped by receivers, something I complained about frequently earlier this year.
Receivers: Part of the credit for Gillett’s statistical improvement has to go to the receiving corps. Garrett Hoskins and Demarius Reed caught two passes each for two touchdowns each, which is about as good as it gets. Javonti Greene struggled a bit as a ball carrier, but caught two passes for 52 yards, and if I’m not mistaken, his 43 yard play was a quick in with almost the entire gain coming after the catch. This is the play that they tried to run earlier in the season, but Greene kept dropping the pass.
Here is a list of all EMU’s incompletions yesterday (per the box score), with plays that stood (no pass interference by Buffalo) italicized: first quarter: third-and-seven to Olds (Najja Johnson), third-and-seven throwaway (QB hurry by Khalil Mack); second quarter: second-and-six to Olds (Joe Petit, QB hurry by Richie Smith) pass interference on Petit, second-and-goal on the nine to Reed dropped (QB hurry by Dalont Wallace), third-and-goal on the nine to Russell (Isaac Baugh, QB hurry by Lee Skinner) offsetting penalties (EMU holding, Buffalo pass interference) no play, third-and-goal to Olds (Joe Petit) pass interference in the end zone, third-and-five to Olds (QB hurry by Khalil Mack); third quarter: first-and-ten to Hunter. On the non-penalty plays, that’s two incompletions to Olds, one to Hunter, one drop by Reed, and one throwaway. (Disclaimer: I haven’t gone back to check how catchable the incompletions were, so I’m not suggesting that any of these, other than Reed’s drop, were the fault of the receiver. Again, this is per the official box score.)
Punt/kickoff coverage and returns: Buffalo’s punts and kickoffs outdistanced EMU’s, but none of Jay Karutz’s punts, and only three of Mike Yocum’s six kickoffs were returned, while EMU returned three of Buffalo’s eight punts and all four kickoffs. The result was net punts of 38.2 yards by EMU to 38.1 yards by Buffalo, and net kickoffs of 49.5 yards by EMU to 40.5 yards by Buffalo. Buffalo’s average starting field position was at the 26 yard line, while EMU’s was just past the 31. That’s about a 62-yard advantage to EMU over the course of the game.
The EMU defense: I mentioned earlier that EMU held Buffalo scoreless for the final 21 minutes. Ron English mentioned it also, in his post-game comments, saying that when your defense can hold an opponent scoreless in the fourth quarter you’ve usually got a good chance to win the game. Bryan Palin, Justin Cudworth, Brad Ohrman, and Marlon Pollard all had good games, but really, aside from a few (just two?) blown plays (Branden Oliver’s 68-yard run and Ed Young’s 33-yard catch), the entire defense played well. Five sacks for 48 yards, including a huge 13-yarder by Justin Cudworth, is just one indication of that. This is a hard-hitting EMU defense — several of the hits were clearly audible at the top of Rynearson Stadium — and we can only hope this continues into next year with all the seniors leaving.
In the end, this was easily EMU’s most-complete game of the Ron English era, and probably longer than that. The rebuilding is going well, and and I can’t wait to see the finished product!