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Week 6 Football Preview: Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan
Saturday, Oct. 8 (Noon, CBS Sports Network)
What kind of game are we going to get this time?
To snap a five-game losing streak, Eastern Michigan hosted Western Michigan in 2019 and used a surprise QB change to beat WMU 34-27. With starting QB Mike Glass out with injury, backup Preston Hutchinson, surprised everybody outside of his team’s locker room with his first career start against WMU, and scored four total TD to beat the Broncos.
If WMU would’ve won the 2019 game in Rynearson, it would’ve gone to the MAC Championship game.
In 2020, EMU's offense scored on 10-straight drives to defeat the Broncos on the road. Last year's game had much fewer scores and required five field goals to beat Western by one point at home.
Last year’s game was much lower scoring, but Eastern needed all five of Chad Ryland’s field goals and Mike Smith Jr.’s late-game interception along the defensive line to wiggle past Western.
If EMU wins this year's matchup, it'll be a first. EMU has never beaten WMU four times in a row in the series’ 57-game history. EMU’s currently riding its third three-game win streak in the series history. The last time EMU had this sort of run was 2011-2013. Much like that stretch, all three games were decided by one score.
The 2011 game featured back-to-back goal-line stops by EMU’s defense and gave the team its juiciest 14-10 win in program history.
The 2012 game featured QB-turned-WR Alex Gillett on the receiving end of a go-ahead TD on the road, and cost Bill Cubit his job.
The 2013 game featured interim head coach Stan Parrish after Ron English lost his job as EMU’s head coach, and then-true freshman QB Brogan Roback in his third career start, first at home, to replace Tyler Benz (who replaced Gillett). After Roback and the offense drove 75 yards on 13 plays to score on a 10-yard pass, the team drew up a trick play: RB Ryan Brumfield took the ball running left, stopped, and threw to the right where Roback would have to catch the ball and beat a defender past the goal line for a two-point conversion. The play tied the game up, sent it to overtime where EMU would eventually beat WMU in P.J. Fleck’s first season there.
“It just feels as though there's another new start to the season in terms of here on out playing conference games. Excited about that, obviously with the rivalry game with Western Michigan. It is very apparent to all of us how big of a game this is.”
The rivalry between the two program isn’t foul, but it’s big for the directional mid-major Michigan supremacy. While there’s a lot on the line between these two for this game, there’s also everything else around the 2022 season both teams have to account for still.
EMU’s got a 3-2 record and it feels like, even though there’s a nice win over Arizona State to show off, it should be playing more effectively than it’s shown so far.
“If we need a pep talk for this game then we've already lost,” Chris Creighton said in Monday’s weekly team press conference. “All of our games since I've been here have been absolute dogfights. If our team needs a pep talk for this game, then we're way, way, way far behind on where we need to be to do what we want to do.”
Michigan MAC series begins
This weekend’s Eastern-Western rivalry game will officially start the race for the Michigan MAC trophy, currently held by Central Michigan.
For either EMU or WMU to win, this weekend’s winning team will also have to also, eventually, take down CMU to take home the prize. CMU doesn’t have to beat both schools to retain, just as long as it just doesn’t go 0-2 in these games; the benefit of winning the trophy outright one year is that retaining it for a second or third year becomes much easier to do.
EMU has won the Michigan MAC outright in the 2007 and 2011 seasons, then retained it in the 2008 and 2012 seasons. Since EMU’s last time winning the trophy, WMU has won the Michigan MAC six times (four outright) and current holders CMU has won it outright three times.
After this Michigan MAC-opening game, the series will be put on pause until the end of the season when Western travels to Central on Nov. 16, and Eastern hosts Central on Black Friday to finish the three-team series.
Michigan MAC winners
2005: Western, outright
2006: Central, outright
2007: Eastern, outright
2008: Eastern, retained
2009: Central, outright
2010: Central, retained outright
2011: Eastern, outright
2012: Eastern, retained
2013: Central, outright
2014: Western, outright
2015: Western, outright
2016: Western, outright
2017: Central, outright
2018: Western, outright
2019: Western, retained
2020: Western, retained
2021: Central, outright
QB Powell medically cleared for comeback
Should Taylor Powell have a normal week of practice leading up to the rivalry game, it'd make sense for him to get back into the starting role.
After, basically, two games of Powell and three games of Austin Smith, Eastern now has the knowledge of what both of their new top two QBs look like in live action.
Powell started the first three games but was knocked out early in the Arizona State game. Creighton noted that Powell was medically cleared to play in the UMass game, but didn’t receive clearance until later in the week. Without a full week of preparation, Powell did not appear in EMU’s last game.
If there’s a normal week of practice for him, then it’s safe to assume Powell would be back on the field as the starting QB. This year, Powell has completed 66% of his passes (62/94) for 681 yards (7.2 Y/A) with 4 TD and a concerning 5 INT.
Smith, who has been the full-time QB since Powell’s injury, received an in-season number change from #19 to #4, his old high school number, in time for the team’s MAC opener vs. Buffalo. Creighton keeps describing Smith as ‘cold as ice’ and has seen the sophomore QB play in multiple Georgia HS state championship games, so a road win at Arizona State or a homecoming game against UMass is small potatoes for him.
While Smith opens up areas of EMU’s playbook in running the football, his accuracy as a passer isn’t what you want to see out of your starter heading into MAC play: 57% (29/51), for 372 yards (7.3 Y/A) with 4 TD and 3 INT.
With his legs, Smith has been able to keep drives alive with 31 total rushes for 166 yards (5.4 avg.) and 1 rush TD. Powell simply doesn’t have the same running ability, and it might also be safe to assume Smith won’t be 100% sidelined just because Powell was finally healthy enough to have a full week of practice. Even before Powell got hurt in the Arizona State game, Creighton had put Smith in the game to convert a third down in the first quarter. It was 3rd & 2, and Smith subbed in for Powell, and took off for a 20-yard run: his longest of the night.
Smith’s playing time before that had been minimal at best, so these last three games have been a great chance for this coaching staff, and Smith himself, to see just how good he is against live action in his second season with the team.
Has he proven himself as a passer? No, not well enough to stay on the field because of his arm.
But as a runner, there’s a lot of potential for Smith to fill some gaps in drives.
I get the old saying: If you have two quarterbacks, then you don’t have one. Unfortunately, EMU isn’t as privileged as whoever first muttered that into a microphone and lost both of its top two options to the transfer portal last offseason.
Now, Smith, the only QB still on the team from last season, is going to have more in-season reps. When will Smith see the field in place of Powell? How often will Smith be used in short-yardage situations? How often will he be called to pass?
This isn’t one of those classic “QB Controversy?!?!?!?!” stories you might watch on First Take, because I don’t think EMU’s in a situation where it can be too shy to use both quarterbacks the rest of the way. If anything, this situation forces the team to be more of who it ideally wants to be: get the most out of everybody, no matter how little or how much they see the field.
Creighton’s 100th EMU game
This Saturday will be a milestone game for the EMU head coach. When his Eagles kick off in Kalamazoo, it'll be the 100th game of his career coached for Eastern Michigan.
At EMU, Creighton holds a 40-59 overall record (22-41 MAC) after he had records of 44-22 at Drake (IA), 63-15 at Wabash, and 32-9 at Ottawa (KS). With 26 years as a head coach, Creighton’s overall record is 179-105 and has the sixth-most coaching wins among active FBS coaches.
Over the last 99 games, Chris Creighton has coached EMU to four bowl games over the last six seasons after not having any bowl appearances since 1987, helped give EMU its first four wins over Power 5 schools in program history (Rutgers, Illinois, Purdue, Arizona State), and has had a record of 20-25 in one-score games.
If there’s one early game in Creighton’s tenure that stands out, it was in 2015 when EMU traveled to Wyoming and beat the Cowboys 48-29. Despite the fact that it was EMU’s only win that year, it was the first time EMU had beaten a non-conference opponent on the road since the 1987 season.
Creighton is currently fourth all-time in games coached at EMU, but is on pace to pass Jim Harkema (103) in November and Fred Trosko (110) early next year.
Most games coached at EMU, all-time:
Elton Rynearson, 187 games, 114-58-15 record (26 seasons, 1917, 1919-1920, 1925-1948)
Fred Trosko, 110 games, 50-56-4 record (13 seasons, 1952-1966)
Jim Harkema, 103 games, 41-57-5 record (10 seasons, 1983-1992)
Chris Creighton, 99 games, 40-59 record (9th season, 2014-current)
Dan Boisture, 68 games, 45-20-3 record (7 seasons, 1967-1973)
Last 5 vs. WMU
2017: WMU 20, EMU 17 (OT, home)
2018: WMU 27, EMU 24 (away)
2019: EMU 34, EMU 27 (home)
2020: EMU 53, WMU 42 (away)
2021: EMU 22, WMU 21 (home)
With the series dating back to 1906 and a long gap no no games played between 1931-1973, Western holds the all-time record with a 34-21-2 record.
On the Broncos
Head coach: Tim Lester, 6th season (64-51 record, 23-16 MAC)
Week 1: Michigan State 35, WMU 13 (at MSU)
Week 2: WMU 37, Ball State, 30 (at Ball State)
Week 3: Pitt 34, WMU 13 (at WMU)
Week 4: San Jose State 34, WMU 6 (at SJSU)
Week 5: WMU 44, New Hampshire 7 (at WMU)
Western Michigan has been under the leadership of former Bronco great QB Tim Lester. Fun fact: Lester was actually a bluechip quarterback out of high school who was all set to be the next Danny Wuerffel at Florida until he injured his knee in the his Illinois state playoff run. Steve Spurrier had to pick up the phone and deliver the bad news. But, some years later, WMU got to play down in Gainesville and Lester got to play in front of Spurrier’s team on a healthy knee.
From a 2015 story by Syracuse.com:
"He was like, 'Tim,'" Lester said, attempting his best impression, "'listen, recruiting is an inexact science. There's about 25 of you All-American quarterbacks and I'm going to get two of you.
"'I don't know which one of them is going to be the next Danny (Wuerffel), so if I can take one that has had knee surgery or one that hasn't, who am I going to take?' I'm going to take the one that hasn't.'"
Spurrier wished Lester good luck and the two would part ways for about five years. Lester went on to set 17 statistical records at Western Michigan…
The Broncos traveled to Gainesville, Fla., for their season opener in Lester's redshirt senior season. And while WMU lost 55-26, Lester completed 24-of-38 passes for 405 yards and two touchdowns.
"I didn't know if he'd remember me because it was a long time ago," Lester said, "but he did. I still love the guy to this day, and I've only met him one time after the game.
"We were all saying, 'Good game, good game, good game,' when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and it was him. I was like, 'Coach, how are you doing?' And he was like, 'That knee healed up OK, didn't it?' I was like, 'Yes, Coach, it did.'"
The takeaway years later? Lester understands why Spurrier, "the old ball coach" had to pull his scholarship offer. Finding a program quarterback is not an easy task and one needs to stack his odds as best as possible.
WMU Offense: 22.6 points per game, 4.7 yards per play, 23/71 third downs (32.4%), 7/13 fourth downs (53.6%)
#0 WR Jehlani Galloway: 13 rec., 165 yards
#3 RB La’Darius Jefferson: 46 rush att., 196 yards (4.3 avg.), 4 rush TD
#4 WR Corey Crooms: 24 rec., 317 yards, 2 TD
#6 QB Jack Salopek: 65/120 passing (54.2%), 774 pass yards (6.5 Y/A), 4 TD, 5 INT, 27 rush att., 80 rush yards (3.0 avg.)
#9 RB Sean Tyler: 65 rush att., 290 yards (4.5 avg.), 3 rush TD
Through five games of the season, this is the worst offensive start for Western Michigan in the Lester era. After always having WMU’s offense in the top-half, or atop, of the league in yards and points, WMU ranks among the bottom in the MAC in those categories.
Jack Salopek is the third [starting] quarterback used by Lester in his time as the head coach after Jon Wassink and Kaleb Eleby in years past. While WMU has continued to out-recruit EMU (and much of the MAC) over the last five seasons, WMU doesn’t seem to have many game-breaking moments with its other skilled players on this side of the ball this year.
Said Creighton, on Western’s offense: “It'll be very similar. They're good at what they do even though some of the faces change they've got guys who've developed, they've got some guys who are back, the running backs are back. Crooms, their really talented receiver is back, but they also develop guys, they're recruiting guys every year, every day and all of that. Lots of RPOs, mix of the run and the pass, they've got a system, they know it and they're good at it.”
WMU Defense: 28 points per game allowed, 6.0 yards per play allowed, 30 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 11 QB hurries, 3 INT, 18 pass breakups
#1 DE Andre Carter: 28 tackles (16 solo, 3 TFL, 1 sack), 1 pass breakup, 5 QB hurries
#3 LB Zaire Barnes: 41 tackles (23 solo, 2.5 TFL, 0.5 sack), 3 pass breakups, 1 QB hurry
#20 LB Corvin Moment: 35 tackles (12 solo, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack), 3 QB hurries
#55 DT Braden Fiske: 27 tackles (15 solo, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks), 2 pass breakups, 1 QB hurry, 1 fumble forced, 1 fumble recovery
WMU’s defense has been shaky during the Lester era, but this year it seems like it’s actually the strongpoint for the team. The defense is tied for #28 nationally with nine takeaways, and tied for #52 with 30 total tackles for loss made this season.
On Western’s defense, Creighton said: “We've seen five games now so you start to trust what you see about halfway through the regular season. Very similar to last year… Some similarities to last week in that they're very aggressive, very aggressive with pressure and movement… They do a really good job of disguising coverages so you don't know exactly what you're going to get. Similar to last year and some similarities to last week just in terms of philosophy of solving problems with aggression.”
Week 6 MACtion Schedule & Picks Against the Spread
Now that we’re halfway through the season, gambling on MACtion is bound to get much easier, right?
I had a late start on making ‘official’ picks against the spreads, so my overall record is missing a few games. If you want, you can mentally sprinkle on a few more wins in my record and it’s about where it should be on the season.
Last week was really bad for me. I went 2-4 in all of my MAC picks against the spread. If you
My 2022 record ATS: 9-12 (2-3 MAC)
Last week’s wins: Ball State +4 vs. NIU, Buffalo -1 vs. Miami.
Last week’s losses: Not worth reading, IMO.
Note: I’ve never claimed to be an expert at this and I’ll never say that my picks should serve as advice for you. But if you put all of your money on the games I get right and none on the games I got wrong, then you’re welcome.
No matter. Let’s just ignore the past records and go undefeated this weekend.
Saturday, Oct. 8
Buffalo at Bowling Green (Noon, ESPN+)
ATS pick: BG -1. Watching the line here: Buffalo opened as 2.5-point road favorites, but the line has moved in Bowling Green’s favor as of this writing. For as much as I don’t trust the trajectory of the team, BG’s winning a lot of turnover battles this year, and if BG’s defensive coaching plays ahead of Buffalo’s offensive coaching, then I could see the Falcons spoiling Buffalo’s 2-0 start to the MAC season.
Akron at Ohio (2 p.m., ESPN3)
ATS pick: Akron +11. Ohio absolutely should put Akron away, but Ohio’s defense is sloppy enough to make the Akron game a one-score game at best.
Ball State at Central Michigan (3:30 p.m., ESPN+)
ATS pick: Ball State +9. If Central cannot cover nine points at home against Ball State, then CMU’s got a lot more issues than I’m currently aware of. The offense hasn’t moved the ball nearly as well as it should, and Ball State’s showing a ton of improvement over the last few weeks.
Toledo at Northern Illinois (3:30 p.m., ESPN+)
ATS pick: Toledo -5.5. I’m plugging my nose here. Giving Toledo 5.5 points is a dangerous move, but if the defense is for real, it should be able to keep NIU’s offense at a distance from the end zone for at least some stretches of the game. It’ll be very funny when this game comes down to special teams, because that’s not exactly Jason Candle’s specialty.
Kent State at Miami (3:30 p.m., ESPN+)
ATS pick: Miami +3.5. While Kent State might win this one outright, I think Kent State’s also been inconsistent enough for me to not take the points here. If Miami takes advantage of any more Kent State turnovers, it’ll mask any improvements Kent State made this offseason with its run defense. However if Miami does have to play without LB Ryan McWood, then maybe I’d have to reconsider here.
Always excited for October in the MAC. Most CFB aficionados don't start paying attention to the conference until the Saturday schedule is over, but they're missing out. Not only am I pretty sure that in stadium attendance numbers higher in October, I'm also pretty sure that it'll be a result from before Halloween that will determine who's going to Detroit. During the Creighton Era EMU is 9-26 in the First half of the conference schedule (25 of those games in the month of October). If we're feeling charitable (and I am) let's throw out 2014, 2015, and 2020; the record improves to a still poor 6-15. EMU has 4 straight matchups against divisional opponents. If we win all 4 of those, we'd likely be the best team in the West on Halloween with 4 head to head tie breakers. October is when champions are made.