Eagles prepping for role as contender
As Chris Creighton begins his fourth season in Ypsilanti, he hopes his Eagles can continue to build on the momentum of a season that put EMU in its first bowl game since 1987.
Offensively, Brogan Roback . . .
Defensively, EMU beings back eight starters, including four in the secondary. Can it stand up against some of the top QB’s in the conference, especially Toledo’s prolific Logan Woodside.
2016 MAC: 4-4 (4th, MAC West)
Bahamas Bowl: Old Dominion 24, EMU 20
2017 MAC Media prediction: 4th, MAC West
● The Eagles averaged 455 yards and 29.6 points per game. However, they will have a new offensive coordinator as Kalen DeBoer left for Fresno State. Aaron Keen till be calling the shots from the press box.
● The offense has eight returning starters, with the biggest being Roback. The senior passed for 2,694 yards in 2016 and had six 300-yard passing games in just ten starts.
● The running game will be led by Ian Eriksen who led the green and white in rushing with 771 yards on 184 carries and had nine touchdowns.
● The recievers are led by senior WR Johnny Niupalu who had 28 catches for 359 yards and four touchdowns, along with Sergio Baliey II (60 receptions for 868 yards).
● The offensive line has just two returning starters in Ka’John Armstrong and junior RG Jimmy Leatiola.
● The EMU defense under the direction of defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough allowed 29.8 points and 433 yards a game last season. They were stingy against the run, allowing just 168 yards per game over the 13 game schedule.
● The defense has eight returning starters -- only two on the line. Senior Luke MacLean 10 tackles and two sacks in eight 2016 starts. Junior Jeremiah Harris registered 31 total tackles and was one the best in the Football Bowl Subdivison in blocking kicks.
● The linebackers will be led by Ike Spearman, who returned to action, registering 44 tackles (12 TFL) in 2016. Joining the senior is Jason Beck (86 stops a season ago) and sophomore Brody Hoiying.
● The secondary has three men returning to “The Factory” in senior Ikie Calderon who hd 63 total stops and two forced fumbles coming back from a knee injury in 2015. Sophomore Vince Calhoun had 77 total tackles, three interceptions, and nine passes defended Sophomore Kevin McGill owned 35 total tackles and three pass breakups in six starts last year as a freshman
● The Eagles place kicking will again be in the hands of sophomore Paulie Fricano. After walking on last fall, Fricano earned Second-Team ALL MAC honors after setting a school record with 99 points -- 42-of-43 on extra points and 19-of-24 on field goals.
● Punting responsibilities look like a battle between sophomore Ivan Oraha and junior Jesse Kelly. At least early, the return game will be in the hands of sophomore Matthew Sexton and senior Jaron Johnson on the kicks and junior Blake Banham on the punt team
EMU was one of the feel-good stories in the MAC a season ago, bouncing back after three wins over two campaigns. The Eagles went 4-4 in MAC play, including a road win at eventual East champion Ohio.
The Eagles get Ohio and Western Michigan at home this time around, but have road tilts at CMU, Toledo, and Miami. With non-conference road games at Rutgers, Army, and Kentucky, the schedule is formidable, but with a strong returning contigent and another year under Creighton, the Eagles are in position to hold their own..