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It's Been a Rough Season
When you don't win the season on your own, the last page of the playbook says to hope and wait on a miracle.
This hasn’t been the ideal follow-up season Eastern Michigan had in mind for itself. At this point last year, EMU was 5-3 with an in-season conference championship-like game to look forward to.
Of course, we all remember how that game ended.
We like to remember how the season also ended — with a french fry dousing in Boise, Idaho — but EMU’s always reminded itself that the season might be more defined by not beating Toledo and less defined by its win over San Jose State.
EMU won every game after the fourth-quarter letdown against Toledo to finish the year with a 9-4 and its first bowl victory in 35 years. It was the best season in a very, very long time, but it wasn’t good enough. Co-champions of the MAC West, and EMU had to sit at home and watch the Rockets go to Ford Field and beat Ohio 17-7 for a league title.
This year, it’s starting to look like EMU will keep its tradition of not going, well, going.
Today we’re looking at a 4-4 record, 2-2 in MAC play. EMU’s one game off from last season, but one game is too far of a fall when we’re trying to improve the margins.
It took five games before EMU’s offense started to look competent again — but even that finished with a rivalry loss at Central Michigan. EMU had some inspiring showings on offense against CMU and in its Ball State, but those highlights didn’t carry through the last two games.
Over the Kent State and NIU games, EMU’s offense has run plays a 3.9 yards a clip — 5.3 yards per pass attempt, 2.9 yards per rush. In a word: yikes.
The defense, which is tied for third in the MAC with 13 takeaways, has been a solid contributor for the team, but it has not been effective in stopping the run on the whole.
Yes, EMU is coming off of a solid performance against NIU, in which the run defense did hold the Huskies to 3.7 yards per carry (116 yards on 31 rushes), but its inability to hold CMU down a few weeks back is still hurting the team in the standings today.
This unit, which never came into the season fully healthy (and is in worse shape today than it was in early September), has given up 4.92 yards per carry, which is 117th in the nation. In creating tackles for loss, EMU’s defense is 115th at a rate of 7.43%.
(Conversely, the offense has allowed TFLs 11.13% of the time, 11th-worst in the country).
Even the special teams has had some issues, but there’s a chance that the worst moments are behind them.
But the special teams units did allow a 2-point swing on a PAT kick at Central Michigan that changed the rhythm of that game, and had its moments of disorganization at Minnesota (not that this affects the team in the MAC West race) with a couple of personnel penalties.
Despite some misses within his rage, Jesus Gomez is having a fine season as a placekicker and has a couple of 50+ bangers to prove it. Nationally, Mitch Tomasek is tied for sixth-most punts had this season and is 16th in punting average (45.23), so he’s immune from this conversation. The only issue Tomasek being on the field is how frequently he’s asked to flip the field.
Tomasek has had to punt the ball five or more times in a game five times this season, including 10 times against Kent State, in which he punted the ball three times in the first eight minutes of the game.
Really? Kent State?
After a pair of wins over Ball State and Kent State, the team lost its statement game at Northern Illinois when things were entirely within reach. EMU is undefeated at home, but winless on the road. That’s both good news for this Saturday with Western Michigan coming to town, but bad news for the following game at Toledo.
Technically EMU’s record isn’t bad enough to knock it out of contention to win the division. The problem, though, is that EMU was never in the MAC West driver’s seat to begin with.
No MAC team from a six-team division has ever made it to the MAC title game after losing to two divisional opponents. That’s not to say it can’t happen because the math says these highly unlikely outcomes won’t happen, but history (and the current trajectory of Toledo’s success) suggests that only one divisional loss is survivable — two is simply too many.
Why should this EMU football team be so special to do something we’ve never seen done before in the history of MACtion?
There’s a lot of football left to play, but let’s cover the essentials that EMU needs to see from itself and others to where it wants to:
EMU has to go 4-0 or 3-1. But that one loss cannot come in either of these next two weeks to Western Michigan at home or Toledo on the road.
Toledo (7-1 overall, 4-0 MAC) has to go 1-3 or 0-4, so long that the one win does not come against EMU. In the scenario that EMU goes 3-1 the rest of the way and Toledo goes 1-3, EMU would be able to win a head-to-head tiebreaker as the two teams finish with 5-3 records yet again.
Losing to WMU (2-6 overall, 1-3 MAC) means three in-division losses, and there’s really not a tiebreaker rule that helps you overcome that kind of setback.
(Not going to get too deep into the weeds of it right now, but there’s a scenario where five MAC West teams end up with 5-3 conference records, and WMU would end up going to the MAC title game.)
Neither Northern Illinois (4-4 overall, 3-1 MAC) nor Central Michigan (4-4 overall, 2-2 MAC) can finish the MAC season tied with or, obviously, have better records than Eastern.
The most improbable run to win the West this year, though, lives in Muncie, Indiana. Ball State’s (2-6 overall, 1-3 MAC) only path to Detroit includes winning all of its games, hoping NIU finishes with the same MAC record at the end of the year, and everybody else in the West goes 4-4 or worse.
Lots of options are still on the table, but that’s because it’s October and we’re talking about the MAC here.
And, truly, it’s all just words at this point.
“Boy, wouldn’t it be funny if… ?”
All good conversations to have right now because, well, we only have a few short weeks in the year where we get to talk like this. But in a few weeks, all the fun will belong to just two teams.
At this rate, EMU might be one of 10 MAC teams at home with a bowl of popcorn. Why shouldn’t it?