2014 CFN Preview - Eastern Michigan Eagles
Eastern Michigan TE Tyreese Russell
Eastern Michigan TE Tyreese Russell
Posted Jul 6, 2014

Preview 2014 - Can Chris Creighton turn around a program that can't be turned around? (Getty Images)

Eastern Michigan Eagles

Preview 2014

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- 2014 Eastern Michigan Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Chris Creighton
First Year
17th year overall: 139-46 Returning Lettermen
Off. 23, Def. 26, ST 5
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best EMU Players
1. TE Tyreese Russell, Sr.
2. RB Bronson Hill, Sr.
3. OT Lincoln Hansen, Sr.
4. WR Dustin Creel, Jr.
5. LB Ike Spearman, Jr.
6. LB Great Ibe, Jr.
7. QB Brogan Roback, Soph.
8. OT Andrew Wylie, Soph.
9. DT Pat O'Conner, Jr.
10. CB Willie Creear, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Morgan State
Sep. 6 at Florida
Sep. 13 at Old Dominion
Sep. 20 at Michigan State
Oct. 4 at Akron
Oct. 11 Buffalo
Oct. 18 at UMass
Oct. 25 Northern Illinois
Nov. 1 Central Michigan
Nov. 15 at Western Michigan
Nov. 22 at Ball State
Nov. 28 Toledo

Chris Creighton might not have the toughest task of any coach in college football, but turning around Eastern Michigan and making it a player will take far more than just working hard and hoping for the right pieces to fall in place. Creighton is now messing with history.

Former head man Ron English appeared to have things on the right track, at least for a little while, and then it was the same old Eastern Michigan with no offense, not enough defense, and losses, losses, losses.

How bad has the program been? The Eagles have won just 12 games over the last five seasons and haven't seen a winning campaign since 1995. The last bowl game? A 30-27 win over San Jose State in your 1987 California Bowl.

Creighton's biggest task will be to change the attitude of a perennial loser. Of course that's what any new coach taking over a bad program needs to do - along with bringing more "energy" - and the only way that happens is with a little bit of success.

It's not going to be an easy fix. Creighton had almost no time to work on a recruiting class, and it's going to take a total infusion of talent to start to creating a program that can start challenging for the MAC title.

But what has been the problem? Yeah, yeah, yeah, the team needs to be better, the mindset needs to change, etc., but what does Creighton have to focus on right away?

His Eagles need an identity.

EMU had a few offensive surges over the years, and the D had a time or two when it wasn't awful, but last year the offense couldn't find anything that consistently worked, and the defesne got pounded on regularly. There were too many mistakes, the special teams were awful - nothing worked.

First and foremost, the offense has lean on a veteran line that might not be that bad as the season goes on, and then the hope has to be for a decent group of skill options to suddenly become sharper and more explosive. The team had no pop whatsoever, and it almost never had control in any game. Blink, and most games were over in the first quarter.

Step One is to simply be more competitive. All ten losses last year were double-digit blowouts, and only two of the last 20 defeats were close.

Creighton has never had a losing season in 17 years of coaching. He knows how to win, and now he has to teach Eastern Michigan how to do that.

What to look for on offense: Expect the coaching staff to adapt to the personnel and not the other way around. Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer will incorporate a little bit of everything to see what works and what he has to go with. Early on, the line will be the key with four starters returning to try paving the way for a deceent backfield. Don't expect any fireworks from the passing game, but look for more chain moving and more sustained drives. Efficiency will be the buzzword after struggling so much to generate manageable third down situations. That should change early on.

What to look for on defense: Drake might have come up with a disappointing 6-5 season under Creighton, but his defense was stellar. Great against the run - allowing just 95 yards per game - his defenses attacked well and kept the big plays to a minimum. Run defense was EMU's biggest issue allowing a whopping 43 touchdowns on the ground and giving up over 200 yards in every game but four. Generating pressure on the quarterback wasn't that big an issue, but there were too many plays made down the field and too many early drives that ended with seven. The linebacking corps should be decent, but the line has to hold up better. With a slight tweaking, and the loss of top pass rusher Kalonji Kashama, there will be an adjustment period.

This team will be much better if… it starts winning the turnover margin. Creighton preached this offseason that everything has to be done "the right way," and that starts with being on the right side of the turnover battle. EMU has enough problems without giving the other team a few free chances. Last year the Eagles were -12 overall, failing to be on the plus side over the final ten games and coming up with just seven takeaways over the span. The D has to start putting the O in a better position.

The Schedule: Enjoy the Opening Day home game against Morgan State, because that's the last you'll see of the Eagles in Ypsilanti for a long, long time. The team goes on the road for four straight games - with a bye week thrown into the mix - until October 11th when Buffalo comes to town as part of a run of three home dates in four games. That's the only real positive break on the schedule with yet another abyss away from home - there isn't a home game between the end of October until the November 28th date with Toledo. Forget about the non-conference games against Florida and Michigan State on the road, but Old Dominion could be an interesting battle. Getting UMass and missing Bowling Green and Ohio from the East is a plus, but going on the road to start out the MAC schedule with Akron will be harder than it looks.

Best Offensive Player: Senior TE Tyreese Russell. The offense didn't show off nearly enough pop in the passing game and almost never stretched the field, and now it'll be up to Russell, along with receivers Dustin Creel and Jay Jones, to change that. Russell has the right frame and nice hands, and now he needs to be even ore of a featured target. Steady, he has the potential to occasionally be sensational.

Best Defensive Player: Junior LB Ike Spearman. The linebacking corps went through some growing pains last season, but with Sean Kurtz back in the middle, Great Ibe and Ike Spearman on the outside, and Hunter Matt to fill in where needed, there's good potential for the young group to come up with a big year and become one of the team's biggest strengths. Spearman is undersized, but he can move and he can hit. He's not going to get into the backfield all that often, but he'll be a double-digit tackling machine.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Brogan Roback. It would've been an interesting quarterback battle had Tyler Benz stayed around, but he left the team before the new coaching staff came on, and now LSU transfer - and former Penn State recruit - Rob Bolden will be in the mix. Roback took over the starting job midway through last season and did what he could after being thrown to the wolves. Not a runner, he has to stretch the field a bit more and utilize his decent receiving corps. If he's not great, and if he doesn't get the downfield passing game moving, it'll be another long year - if the job is actually his. Bolden, who was moved to receiver at LSU, is coming in looking to see time right away under center.

The season will be a success if ... the Eagles win four games. That might not sound like a lofty goal, but the program has broken the three-win mark just once since 2007 and twice since 2005. A two win improvement would be a big step forward in Creighton's first season, and with winnable games against Morgan State, Akron, UMass and Western Michigan on the slate, with an upset here or there, a decent season is possible. However, realistically, the goal is to be better overall. This is a stepping-stone season - patience is a must for a program desperate for any success.

Key game: Oct. 4 vs. Akron. The Zips and Eagles are in different divisions and don't play every year, but EMU hasn't won in the series since 2002. Akron is quickly improving under Terry Bowden, but with a week off to prepare, if the Eagles are somehow able to pull off the road upset, with a rebuilding Buffalo at home and a trip to UMass to follow, there's a chance to go on a decent, momentum-building run with a good start.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Third Down Conversions: Opponents 64-of-135 (47.4%) - Eastern Michigan 55-of-162 (34%)
- Average Yards Per Pass: Opponents 9.7 - Eastern Michigan 6.4
- First Quarter Scoring: Opponents 181 - Eastern Michigan 55

- 2014 Eastern Michigan Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players