Eastern Michigan RBs: It's Time For a Breakthrough
EMU's got some talent at running back, but can this team finally turn its negative into a huge positive in 2022?
Welcome to The Ypsilanti Eleven!
We’re continuing our positionally-focused Eastern Michigan football team previews by focusing on the running backs. If you haven’t read up on the state of this team’s quarterback room, check out the link below to get yourself more familiarized with that group.
EMU 2022 Positional Previews: Running Backs
Eastern Michigan’s running backs aren’t usually the most acclaimed athletes in the league, but this offense still likes to use its backs to pick up some tough yards, especially when it’s in the red zone. EMU’s rushing attack has been in the bottom-half of the MAC’s standing for nearly the entirety of Chris Crieghton’s tenure as EMU’s head coach and last year wound up being no different: 10th in total rush yards (1,541), 11th in rush yards per game (118.5), and tied for 10th in yards per carry (3.4). As a high-mark: EMU was sixth in the league in rushing touchdowns (26).
In MAC play, EMU finished half of its games with an average of two yards (2) or fewer per rush attempt.
While running the ball down a defense’s throat isn’t the offense’s main ingredient for getting points on the board, EMU tried to find some explosiveness through the one-year addition of Jawon Hamilton. Hamilton, from James Madison, rushed for an EMU-best 631 yards last year on 101 carries; his 6.25 yards-per-carry average was fourth-best in the league. The last time an EMU rusher found himself in the top 10 of that category was 2016 when then-freshman Breck Turner had a 5.42 average (417 yards, 77 carries).
The last time EMU had a 1,000-yard rusher was in 2015 when Darius Jackson, a Ron English recruit, reached 1,088 yards on 208 carries (5.2 avg.), and scored 14 times. He also had 21 receptions for 201 yards, and two more TD. Before that, Bronson Hill hit 1,101 yards in 2013 (5.6 avg., 5 TD), English’s final year as EMU’s head coach. Since then, the most productive running backs by total yards rushed have been Ian Eriksen’s 2017 and 2018 seasons (771 yards, 4.2 avg., 9 TD & 810 yards, 4.5 avg., 8 TD), Shaq Vann’s 2019 season (715 yards, 4.8 avg., 8 TD).
Both Jackson and Hill were Third Team All-MAC recipients in their high-achieving seasons. No running back since has made an All-MAC team.
Aside from Hamilton, last year’s rushing attack got a bit predictable as well. It didn’t help that EMU’s quarterback change from a very mobile Preston Hutchinson in 2020 to a pocket-passing Ben Bryant in 2021 narrowed down EMU’s rushing possibilities while it made gains in the passing game. Still, the developing Darius Boone didn’t hit on as many long runs as the team would’ve liked, and EMU’s offense found itself throwing for more first downs out of third-and-longs than it probably wanted to during the season.
The field was shortened up for Samson Evans to do his thing in the red zone, and did well for himself with 13 rushing scores last year — tied for third-best in the MAC.
Darius Boone 2020: 3 games, 44 rush att., 254 yards (5.8 avg.), 2 TD; 1 rec., 13 yards.
Samson Evans 2020: 4 games, 41 rush att., 202 yards (4.9 avg.), 1 TD; 6 rec., 46 yards.
Darius Boone 2021: 13 games, 120 rush att., 451 yards (3.8 avg.), 6 TD; 5 rec., 77 yards (15.4 avg.).
Samson Evans 2021: 12 games, 83 rush att., 316 yards (3.8 avg.), 13 TD; 19 rec., 107 yards (5.6 avg.).
Jawon Hamilton 2021: 11 games, 101 rush att., team-best 631 yards (6.2 avg.), 4 TD; 1 rec., 7 yards.
Bryson Moss 2021: 6 games, 22 rush att., 69 yards (3.1 avg.); 2 rec., 8 yards
On my end, I have Darius Boone and Samson Evans organized as the team’s RB1/2. Evans may enter the year as the team’s RB1 as he’s listed in various preview magazines, but I’m going to be patient through practices and early-season before I drop Boone any further than this. Maybe that consistent explosiveness EMU’s been wanting to see out of Boone finally comes through in 2021? Until that’s proven, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Evans receive anywhere between 50-60% of the team’s handoffs.
After those two, I’ve got Bryson Moss as the team’s RB3 and DJ Smith at RB4. Moss is still very young as a 2021 signee, so I’m curious to see if he’ll have any expanded on-field role with the team this year. Smith had his shot carrying the rock for EMU, but the Lone Star State native hasn’t been able to translate his speed onto the MAC stage.
The latter half of the running back room is filled with guys who are more or less new guys to this position group. We’re going last name-alphabetical to finish up this list.t
Jaylon Jackson recently transferred into Eastern from Lamar, and hopefully he can provide some speed out of the backfield in ways that other current backs can’t. Listed at 5’8, 165 lbs, maybe he’s the tiny guy glitch this offense has been searching for.
As a second-year-freshman, Jackson was Lamar’s leading rusher in 2021 with 309 yards on 87 carries with 2 TD, and he also caught 11 passes for 115 yards. He was a full-year starter in 2020 (6 games), and had 220 yards on 49 carries then too.
Jaylon Jackson career (Lamar): 16 games, 136 rush att., 529 yards (3.89 avg.), 2 TD; 15 rec., 187 yards (12.47 avg.), 1 TD
Elijah Jackson-Anderson is an incoming 3-star signee from Grand Blanc HS, and I wouldn’t expect to see him on the two-deep this fall unless he starts to clearly out-perform a handful of other dudes in practice. I like the talent he brings to the table. (He sort of reminds me of Bronson Hill?)
Michael Foor was a spring-time walk-on from 2020, so it’s not that he’s new to his teammates, but he’s probably still new to the team’s observers. Foor is a class of 2018 graduate of Airport HS (Carleton, Mich.) whose offers out of high school came from a select handful of nearby Division II and III schools. He opted to go to EMU as a student and join the team the old-fashioned way. Sebastian Toland came to EMU from Northern Michigan in 2021. Up at Northern, he played in 10 games in 2019, had 91 rush attempts for 268 yards, and caught 6 passes for 27 yards. Toland is an in-state guy as well (Jackson Lumen Christi HS; Jackson, Mich.)
Of course the offensive line has to do its collective part to create room for its skilled guys. But for the purposes of this conversation, let’s pivot to this frame of mind: it’s still the running backs’ jobs to create some of their own luck. Shove a guy out of the way. Juke a safety out of his shoes. The running backs need to find more ways to make more plays.
Winning the MAC means a lot of things have to go right for your program. Apparently, after watching Northern Illinois win the league crown last year, having seniors across the roster isn’t the biggest deal for a team to get it right. You just need the right kind of leaders in the right spots.
And then they have to keep playing their best football week after week.
Every NIU title, or appearance in a MAC title game, meant that the Huskies were able to dominate with its run game in the MAC that season. Toledo, likewise, used to be one of the best teams in the nation at times when Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson marched for 1,000-yard seasons. Central Michigan lost a lot of good players on its team this season, but many are confident in this team to still do pretty well simply because RB Lew Nichols is a horse. How much did Jaret Patterson, a guy who Creighton passed over, have to do with Buffalo’s recent run of success under Lance Leipold?
EMU ran the ball for five yards at CMU last year.
38 rush yards at NIU, 51 against Miami OH, 46 against Ball State — EMU went 1-2 in that three-game stretch last October, and it’s not like the 13-12 victory over the East division RedHawks is something EMU can feel excellent about.
An EMU offense that doesn’t need its quarterbacks to play the best games of their lives every week is something I could go for if it meant that I knew that the running backs can make defenders play sloppy. But the sacrifice of being a pass-friendly offense at EMU is this: the running backs aren’t always there to bail this team out of problems on the field. This offense is designed to make most of its big moves through the air, and it’s up to the running backs to try and shorten up the field for the passing attack.
Then it’s up to running backs to send and deliver the envelope when EMU’s knocking at the goal line.
Next week’s EMU 2022 Positional Previews: Wide Receivers + Tight Ends.
Y11 Audio: *MY* Previews Next Week, And The Case For YOU-KNOW-WHO To Win The MAC
Subscribe to Y11 Audio if you haven’t done so already! Y11 Audio is the podcast that I’ll be doing for this newsletter and I’m excited to get this thing rolling as we strut our ways into football season.
The podcast is available basically wherever you get podcasts: Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Spotify, Stitcher. You name it.
Episode 1 was more of a quick intro from me, and then I had to pack away the microphone until aver I moved back to Ypsilanti (which has been awesome, thanks for asking).
Episode 2 came out Tuesday, and I wanted to answer one question over and over again for 40 minutes. What are you most looking forward to this season? Just football, no bologna.
Episode 3 will be out Monday, and we’re going to run through some predictions since MAC Media Day is on Tuesday.
My predictions, as stupid as they may be, will be on this one.
Will EMU be favored by anybody in the Media Poll? Should it be? No matter, let’s make the case for why EMU will win the MAC anyway.
Also, a quick football recruiting update for the podcast. EMU’s up to eight commits after last week’s commit from Georgia native WR Makhail Wood (Mills Creek HS).
Reach out to Y11 Audio — Voicemail box: 734-273-9224 / Twitter: @YpsiEleven / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.