EMU Last Year: 2-10
1-7 MAC West (5th)
Head Coach: Chris Creighton
2014 MAC Media Preseason Pick – 6th in MAC West
2014 CHALLENGE: They say life is a journey. The same might be said about collegiate football programs. If so, the Eastern Michigan Eagles took a detour nearly two decades ago and have yet to find their way back. Can EMU get back to the freeway?
(CLICK READ MORE TO CONTINUE >>>>>)
New head coach Chris Creighton comes to Ypsilanti after a relatively successful tenure as HC at Drake. He was 42-22 overall with the Bulldogs, who twice tied for first in the Pioneer Football League before slipping to 4th during a 6-5 (5-3 league) campaign in 2013.
Creighton is acutely aware that he is moving into a program and region that has struggled in recent times. He plans to capitalize on the “blue collar” and “hard working” qualities of both as he attempts to build the program into “something people can be proud of.”
There are some building blocks.
Running back Bronson Hill was a Third Team All-MAC selection last year. He averaged 5.6 ypc and 100 ypg with a long of 70. Still, he was only able to get into the end zone five times as EMU finished 10th in the league in scoring (18.9 ppg). Hill, a 5-10, 208-pound senior, figures to be a workhouse again this season.
“He could have a tremendous influence not only on our running game, but our entire football program.” Creighton said. “I think he’s got a chance to have a really special senior year.”
Evan as he works to diversify, Creighton understands what he has at hand. “I think our team was built to run, and they’ve done that very successfully. That will absolutely be a part of who we are. We might want to spread people out and throw it a little more than they’ve done in the past, so that is probably one of the ways that we are going to look a little bit different.”
Brogan Roback is the only Eagles QB with experience, and that included four starts as a freshman last year. However, joining the mix is Rob Bolden, who had stops at Penn State and LSU. He “is planning to join us here for the first day of camp,” Creighton said, adding, “I think (with) our quarterback position, the one thing it lacked … was experience.”
If Roback can improve upon last year’s numbers (49 of 116, 640 yards, 4 TDs, 5 INTs) or Bolden proves productive, it might help to counter defenses stacking up against the run.
Senior tight end Tyreese Russell (44 receptions, 594 yards) was an All-MAC Second Team pick in 2013. Junior wideout Dustin Creel pulled in in 46 catches for 593 yards and scored five TDs.
Jesse Tate, a junior college transfer (Glendale Community College, AZ) is a tall target (6-6) who might help the receiving corps. Jay Jones had 10 starts last year, catching 25 balls for 293 yards and one TD
The offense will revolve around an experienced line that Creighton sees as a major plus.
“I think the offensive line has the opportunity to be the backbone of our football team. They have five seniors (and) they are hungry,” he said. “They are good football players.”
Right tackle Lincoln Hansen can anchor the group after garnering All-MAC Third Team honors last season. Andrew Wylie got 12 starts at left tackle while Jake Hurcombe logged 11 starts splitting time between left guard and center. Kent Collins is back at center after starting six times in 2013.
Although the Eagles recorded 22 sacks in 2013, the bottom line was not good. EMU ranked last in the MAC and 121st of 123 nationally (45.2 ppg) in scoring defense. That has to change – for the better – if Eastern is going to post more wins. Graduation took its toll, so Creighton’s crew will have some fresh faces
While the offense returns seven starters, the defense gets five back. Two returnees are at linebacker. Ike Spearman started 11 games, finishing with a team-high 82 tackles and also two interceptions. Great Ibe recorded 62 tackles, including three TFL.
Returning linemen at defensive tackles are Pat O’Connor (11 starts, 44 tackles, four sacks) and Mike Steals (nine starts, 25 stops, one sack).
Mycal Swaim, who recorded 81 tackles last year as a free safety is gone, but the back line of defense should have some senior power – led by cornerback Willie Creear. He started 11 games in 2013, notching 56 tackles and picking off one aerial.
Overall, the defense will demand plenty of attention and work in order to improve. Defending the run (a first priority) was poor last year when EMU finished last in the conference (258.3 ypg). However, the Eagles were also last in pass defense efficiency (165.7), allowing opponents to complete 65.2 percent of their attempts.
After converting 10 of 11 field goal attempts in 2012, junior kicker Dylan Mulder slipped to 6 of 11 last season. Austin Barnes returns to handle punting chores after averaging 39.7 ypk last year. He had six punts over 50 yards with a long of 57 versus Ohio. Thanks (so to speak) to defensive issues, Tyler Allen was able to set a new school record with 51 kickoff returns in 2013.
- Rynearson Stadium will have a very different look to it this year as EMU is installing a gray Field Turf Revolution surface at the site. With the white lines and markings, it will have a bit of a parking lot look to it. That’s part of the “Factory” theme that EMU is embracing to recognize the manufacturing history of the area and its people.
“Our colors are green and shite, but our collars are blue,” said head coach Chris Creighton. The factory is where our coaching staff goes to work and our players develop. It is our home, and one that we will protect. When oponents come to the Factory, we want to make it known that they are in for a 60-minute fight.”
- Creighton and four staff members, along with seven players participated in the Sixth Annual Ford Lake Frozen Leap to help raise money for local charities. Wind chill temperatures were in the teens when they took the plunge.
- Creighton is the first active head coach to be hired at Eastern since Jim Harkema in 1983. Harkema had been at national powerhouse Grand Valley State before taking over at EMU. He led Eastern to its only Mid-American Conference Championship in 1987, which is the last time EMU went to a bowl game.
- The 22 sacks by EMU in 2013 were the most since 2000 and ninth most in EMU history.
- After opening the season at home Aug. 30 against Morgan State, Eastern Michigan plays three straight non-conference games on the road (Florida, Old Dominion, Michigan State). After a “bye” week, the Eagles have road tests in two of the next three outings (at Akron, Buffalo, at UMass).
- EMU actually has two “bye” weeks – Sept. 27 and Nov. 8