Eastern Mich. Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

Posted Aug 7, 2006

Eastern Michigan Eagles Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

1st and Ten – You know it, I know it, they know it – Suffice it to say, at some point in the season the Eagles are going to face a third and long situation.  A sure passing situation if there ever was one.  So, you’re the opposing defensive coordinator and you’re faced with the following question.  No, not what play will they run, but who’s getting the ball in the passing game?  Easy answer.  Mr. Deslauriers, one of the best receivers in the nation.  There won’t be one person in the stadium who won’t know who’s getting the ball.  Eric Deslauriers has been one of the most productive receivers over his career in all of college football.  The 6’5” receiver is a huge target who will have a, well, a target on his back this year, not to mention a new number (#1).  He finished the season with 75 catches for just under 900 yards, which helped make him one of the most decorated returning receivers in the nation.  But, therein lies some of the problem – teams found that they could take him out of the game, and if there’s one thing that can’t happen to new QB Tyler Jones, it’s for Deslauriers to be taken away from him.  Jeff Genyk’s ‘Northwestern spread’ offense finds ways to take advantage of what the defense gives to it, but they’ve got to force the issue to the mercurial Eagle wide out.  Teams can often out think themselves and use a key player as a decoy one too many times in a game or a season, but the Eagle offense has to go #1 as much as possible this season.  Even if we all know what’s coming.

2nd and Seven – Tinkers to Evers to Chance, they’re not – The reference to the three former great Cubs was to keep all of you on your toes.  No, just kidding, it’s the reference to the threesome and the relation to the Eagles trio at linebacker, perhaps the best linebacker unit in this conference.  Michael Richardson, Daniel Holtzclaw and Darran Matthews combined for 257 tackles last season, with Richardson leading with 102.  Holtzclaw also finished the year with five interceptions, which is phenomenal for a linebacker, not to mention a freshman linebacker.  But, for as good as this unit will be this season, they gave up 210 yards rushing per game.  Not so good.  Protecting this threesome so they can run free to the ball will be a massive key for the Eagle defensive line.  If they do, the Eagle defense will be much, much better against the run.

3rd and Three – What would happen if…? – For as good a spread offense as the Eagles have run in Jeff Genyk’s tenure at EMU, it’s hard not to daydream as to how good they would’ve been with some semblance of a running game.  Think of the great offenses that Genyk helped lead at Northwestern.  In 2000, the Wildcats were nearly unstoppable with Damien Anderson at running back.  A few years later, Jason Wright ran all over the Big Ten.  Last year in particular, the Eagle running game struggled in a major way, essentially forcing the offense to be one-dimensional.  As simplistic as it sounds, when the running game can keep outside linebackers honest, and in the game, as opposed to nickel and dime defensive backs, the passing game is made that much better.  One step is all it takes to get a receiver an advantage out in the flat, but when teams don’t respect, or don’t have to respect, the running game, forget it – play six DBs and dare them to run.  It’s time for the Eagles to call everyone’s bluff and hand it to, well, someone.  Hopefully, a good someone.

4th and One – If Paybacks are a b---, then what are comebacks? – Remember the scene in the pool hall in the movie Bull Durham?  Crash, as eloquently as only Crash can do it, talks about what one more hit per week would do.  The proverbial “ground ball with eyes” theory.  One extra hit per week would up the batting average and turn a .250 hitter into a .300 star.  Although that theory doesn’t hold as much water in football, take this spin – what’s the difference in 4 – 7 and 6 – 5?  How about a botched extra point after one huge comeback and not being able to stop another huge comeback in the fourth quarter?  That’s how close the Eagles were last year.  Tyler Jones’ performance against Miami led them to the brink of being tied, but the Eagles mangled the snap, the hold and the extra point kick to lose 24 - 23.  Then, the Eagles couldn’t hold off a 19 point fourth quarter against Ball State, losing 26 - 25.  A bowl game may not have been forthcoming, but that’s how close the Eagles were to a winning season.  And, those don’t happen in Ypsilanti all the time.  Can they get back to that level?  It may all come down to how Jones handles being the full-time starter.  Perhaps, it’ll just take a few more “ground balls with eyes”.

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