Record: 1-11 overall, 0-8 MAC
Head coach/year(s): Chris Creighton (3rd Year)
The Eagles showed some promise on offense last year, but EMU’s defense struggled often. The result was a one-win season. Playing in the ultra-tough MAC West doesn’t help matters. Five of the six MAC West teams have some reason to believe they can challenge for a division title – or at least be major players in the outcome.
If the Eagles are to post more wins this year . . .
STAT BOX (All games/MAC rank)
Scoring offense rank: 8th (25.4 ppg)
Scoring defense rank:13th (42.1 ppg)
Total offense rank: 9th (380.0 ypg)
Total defense rank:13th (519.2 ypg)
Turnover margin rank:12th of 13
Five starters – a senior contingent -- return up front. That’s going to help all facets of the offense. "Those guys allowed us to move the ball and score points last year, and we return very single one of them," Creighton said. Also, "We've been recruiting and bolstering the depth there."
Junior quarterback Brogan Roback is back after throwing 16 TDs against 11 picks and totaled 2,304 yards through the air in 2015.
As experienced as the remainder of the offense is, however, the receiving corps will be very young. Maintaining a viable passing threat is important, so some of the youngsters will be learning on the fly. EMU was eighth in pass offense (222.2 ypg) last year and seventh in rushing (157.8 ypg).
Running back Darius Jackson, a sixth round pick by the Dallas Cowboys, is gone after totaling 1,078 yards and 14 touchdowns last year.
Shaq Vann, who averaged 5.9 ypc with 586 yards on 100 trips and caught 37 passes for another 264 yards returns for what could be a very productive season behind the Eagles veteran line.
"It was a really good off-season last year. We just weren't able to withstand some injuries and (maintain) quality depth to compete for four quarters week in and week out." -- Head Coach Chris Creighton
While EMU was second among MAC teams in passing defense, that ranking is somewhat suspect considering opponents often elected to take the very porous low road. In fact, Eastern was 12th in pass defense efficiency and last in rushing defense. In fact, the Eagles yielded 316 ypg on the ground.
Injuries didn’t help matters in 2015, so remaining relatively healthy could be a boost.
Among the departed is Great Ibe, a Second Team All-MAC performer who amassed a whopping 131 tackles overall, including 9.5 TFL
Rover Jason Beck (6-1, 202) returns after finishing second among EMU defenders with 80 tackles. Safety Anthony Brown registered 66 stops (7.5 TFL). Junior DT Luke Maclean paced the squad with 5.0 sacks.
New defensive coordinator Neal Neatherery knows he is facing a challenge with the Eagles, but there are plenty of upperclassmen available for a new scheme.
Eddie Daughterty, a 5-7, 164 pound sophomore, led all receivers (557 yards, 37 receptions, 4 TDs) last year and is a threat in the return game (375 return yards. He ranked second on the team in all-purpose yardage. Blake Banham could be the punt return man.
Austin Barnes averaged 43.6 yards on 45 punts in 2015. Fall practice figures to flush out a place kicker.
It’s even harder to turn the corner when you play in the MAC West. The Eagles get Bowling Green, Ohio and Miami in cross-divisional play. BG is favored to again reach the MAC title game. Ohio should be a MAC East contender. Miami is still rebuilding itself, but the RedHawks managed to beat EMU last year in Oxford.
Improving the defense is the first order of business. If there is progress on that side of the ball, the Eagles should have enough offense to make a run at some wins. Cutting turnovers would be a big help, as well. "We've got to take care of the ball better and help our defense in that way," Creighton said. "We'll see how it goes in the fall, but . . . the pieces, I feel very good about. . . . We've just got to continue to get better."