At the beginning of fall camp, EMU Head Coach Ron English had all the players' names removed from their jerseys. He also had "Team" added to the front of the helmets. Clearly the intent was to take the focus off the individual and put it on the team. What has happened to this point of a 0-5, 0-2 season is a team looking for its identity.
Coming off a 6-6 season with 17 returning starters from last year things were looking up in Ypsilanti. Now everyone is trying to figure how to turn this dreadful season around. With the Rockets showing up with a five game winning streak, things in Rynearson Stadium are getting more challenging.
Eagles on Defense
Last year the strength of this team was on the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles defense ranked 34th in the nation at the end of 2011. They are missing half a dozen starters going into 2012 including three starters from the D line. The results are not what Coach English expected to say the least. Currently EMU ranks last in rushing defense allowing a stunning 305 yards per game on the ground.
The defensive line is led by DE Kalonji Kashama (6'4', 259#) who leads the Eagles in sacks with two to go with two forced fumbles. Devin Henderson (6'2", 292#) anchors the other DE position but he did not participate against Kent State although he was listed as a starter in pregame depth chart. Completing the front four are DT Travis Linser (6'4", 276#), RUSH Andy Mulumba (6'4", 263#) and NT Cy Maughmer (6'2", 290#). There is size along the defensive front but most of their standout stats are in pounds.
The line backing corps is led by Bryan Pali, 10.2 tackles per game and Justin Cudworth, 9.2 tackles per game. Pali has a team high 4.5 TFL. Adding to the Eagles' defensive woes is the listing of starting MLB Colin Weingrad as questionable for Saturday's game.
Opening the season, the secondary featured four-star recruit/UCLA transfer Marrion Pollard a second year starter at CB. Pollard was injured in the Ball State season opener and has not played since. The junior led the team in pass breakups in 2011 and is questionable to play against the Rockets. Darius Scott has replaced Pollard and is joined at CB by Marcell Rose, both with extensive secondary experience. Sophomore SS Pudge Cotton and FS Daniel Coleman complete the starting defensive backfield. Coleman leads the Eagles in tackles with 54 ranking him 10th in the nation. Cotton is averaging 8.4 tackles/game and has two of the team's three INTs. When the team's first and fourth leading tacklers are safeties, there are defensive issues.
Eagles on Offense
The rushing attack was the staple of the Eagles offense last year and EMU fans were looking for more of the same this season. And why not since the Eagles had six lineman returning, all with starting experience for a combined 91 career starts.
Losing starting left tackle Korey Neal to an injury has resulted in a bit of shuffling since the third game. Bobby McFadden has been moved from RT to LT and Campbell Allison has replaced Orlando McCord as starting RG. McCord did not play in EMU's last game against Kent State. The starting OL against the Golden Flashes featured three sophomores. Two seniors, LG Corey Watman and C Andrew Sorgatz, have started every game.
The rushing game has been subpar to date with the Eagles averaging just 123 yards per game on the ground with a team per rush average of less than three yards. The leading rusher in total yards is QB Alex Gillett. RBs Javonti Greene and Dominique Sherrer share equal time running the ball with both averaging less than four yards per rush.
Nowhere are the offensive problems more obvious than at the QB position. Senior Alex Gillett was expected to be the leader and put up improved passing stats this year. To date, the Eagles are averaging just 144 yards per game passing. Coach English replaced Gillett (47.3% completion rate with six INTs and four TDs) with redshirt sophomore Tyler Benz as the starter in the last two games. The results have been underwhelming so far. Benz has completed just 47.4% of his passes for 308 yards on 27 completions including two TDs and two INTs.
The receiving corps is led by Mackey Award Watch List TE Garrett Hoskins. Hoskins is the sole receiver with double digit receptions, 16, and leads the team with a 13 yards/catch average and has a third of the Eagles six TD catches. No other receiver has reached the 100 yard mark in receiving yardage. WR Demarius Reed and RB Javonti Greene each have eight receptions with WR Donald Scott recording seven grabs including two TD catches.
Combining the underwhelming ground and air attack, it's understandable why the Eagles are ranked 119 out of 120 in total offense in the country.
Eagles on Special Teams
All is not gloom for the Green and White. The special teams play has been a high light for the Eagles.
Senior punter Jay Kartuz, an Australian native, is averaging 45.35 yards per punt and demonstrated the ability to use the sidelines to EMU's punt coverage advantage.
Freshman place kicker Dylan Mulder has taken over kicking field goals making his only attempt from 23 yards out. Since missing his first PAT, he has converted on his last four attempts.
Kody Fulkerson handles kickoffs duties, however, the kickoff coverage is allowing a bit more than 23 yards per return.
Tyler Allen returns kickoffs for the Eagles netting more than 23 yards per return. Demarius Reed is close to eight yards per punt return while the EMU punt coverage team is allowing a bit more than seven yards per return on 11 returns out of 37 punts. Both Allen and Reed tend to carry the football away from their bodies during returns.
What to Look For:
The Rockets to have fewer penalties than their opponent for the first time this season.
DB Donald Coleman along with LBs Bryan Pali and Justin Cudworth to be all over the field on defense for EMU.
EMU punter Jay Karutz to keep his punts directed to the sidelines to minimize return opportunities for Bernard Reedy.
The Rocket defense to hold EMU third down conversion to less than 25%.
EMU to use a flock of tight ends in formations often shifting two of them to the opposite side of the line, mostly for running plays.
EMU to favor the right side on running plays.
UT to have multiple sacks generated by outside pressure.
Eagles TE Garrett Hoskins to be a prime target both on the edge and down the middle of the field.
EMU QB to use play action and roll out right with option to pass or run.
EMU to use an unbalanced line, strong to the right, on punt formations.
Choice of seats in Rynearson Stadium with fewer than 8,000 Eagle fans in the stands.
David Fluellen to have his third straight 100 yard rushing game.
The Rockets to be positive in turnovers.