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EMU Aims For First Win Over FCS Team
Your Week 1 Eastern Michigan and MACtion preview is here! It's really finally time for football!
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Week 1 Football Preview: Eastern Michigan vs. Eastern Kentucky
Friday, Sept. 2 (7 p.m., ESPN3)
Football season. Finally!
This season of Eastern Michigan football is led by ninth-year head coach Chris Creighton (37-57 overall, 22-40 MAC), and EMU is coming off of a 7-6 record, capped by a LendingTree Bowl loss to Liberty. It was EMU’s fourth bowl appearance over a six-year span after not going to any bowl games since 1987.
EMU’s got its season opener this Friday at Rynearson Stadium against Eastern Kentucky from the FCS ranks. Don’t let its 7-4 record (4-2 A-Sun) fool you at first glance; Eastern Kentucky is, historically, a very respectable FCS-level school. EKU is considered to have the FCS-level first dynasty as it had a four-year run at the Division 1-AA national championship game from 1979-1982 (2-2 in those). From 1979-1997, EKU missed the playoffs just twice. Since Then, EKU has only made the playoffs four times: 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2014.
The glory years of EKU was led by one Roy Kidd, who led the Colonels as a head coach from 1964-2002, compiled a career record of 315-123-8, and won 16 conference championships. Before he led the team as a coach, Kidd played quarterback for the school from 1950-1953. Naturally, EKU’s home field is named Roy Kidd Field.
EKU’s also pulled the upset over FBS-level opponents six times since 1979, and most recently beat Miami OH 17-10 in 2014.
Last season, EMU took care of FCS-level St. Francis 35-15, and the team has not lost to an FCS team under Creighton’s leadership.
Last 5 vs. FCS
2014: EMU 31, Morgan State 28
2016: EMU 61, Mississippi Valley State 14
2018: EMU 51, Monmouth 17
2019: EMU 34, Central Connecticut 29
2021: EMU 35, St. Francis 15
The last time EMU fell to an FCS school was 2012 when the Ron English-led Eagles fell 31-14 to Illinois State. This came in Week 2 the year after EMU rose to a 6-6 record and English won the MAC Coach of the Year Award. In the second half of this game, EMU finished its offensive drives by way of punt, punt, punt, field goal miss, interception, and another interception.
Since then, EMU is 6-0 vs. FCS competition.
But, even if it’s not very recent, what about EMU’s history with Eastern Kentucky? Believe it or not, EMU holds an all-time record of 0-3-1 vs. EKU.
1948, loss: EKU 20, EMU 0
1949, loss: EKU 27, EMU 6
1970, loss: EKU 21, EMU 10
1971, tie: EMU 0, EKU 0
EMU has to have its first program victory over EKU. This probably won’t shape up to be an easy win for the Eagles, but the historical records sort of demand them to finally get a win it should’ve already captured in the early 1970’s.
Two of four captains are new transfers
Before EMU’s Monday press conference, the team announced its lineup of captains, as voted on by the players. Right tackle Brian Dooley and defensive end Jose Ramirez were already two of the team captains named through the spring. Two, new starting transfers were recently voted to lead the squad as captains this year as well: quarterback Taylor Powell (Troy, Missouri) and linebacker Chase Kline (Michigan State).
“For Chase [Kline] and Taylor Powell to be voted team captain after getting here in January is phenomenal,” Creighton said at Monday’s press conference. “It's phenomenal to be voted captain of our team, but to be relatively new, because we're a proud program with fifth and sixth-year seniors and all of that, and for the team to say 'We want you to be our team captain,' I think that's a phenomenal feat.”
Kline’s made an immediate impact on the defense already, heightening the play in that room alongside fellow transfer Joe Sparacio (Boston College). Kline’s going to be the EMU’s new starting middle linebacker this season.
“This year has been big year of growth for me,” Kline said Monday. “There's been a lot of changes, new opportunities, and I feel like I've seized them. And I think being named captain by my teammates means the world to me. I think they just see how hard I play, that I'll do it for anybody, I'll help anybody out there and play to my fullest. It's a year of growth, it's a year of change and growth, and I'm really looking forward to the new opportunities in front of me.”
In his three seasons with Michigan State, Kline recorded 52 tackles (20 solo, 2 TFL, 1.5 sacks), and forced two fumbles.
First game with QB Taylor Powell
This will be EMU’s first game with Powell, who joins as a graduate student with one year to play. Yesterday, Creighton reminded anybody listening to him that Powell was an 81% passer through the spring, and was closer to 76% in fall camp. That’s the kind of consistency Creighton is impressed by, and hopes to maximize this season.
“I really love the approach he took with coming in as a grad transfer and not beating his chest but getting to know everyone's name on the team, sizing up our culture, who we are, how we do things: he's a perfect fit,” Creighton said about his new quarterback yesterday.
“He's very cerebral, very a smart quarterback, very accurate, and just a great fit for our program.”
Powell, from Fayetteville, Ark., signed with Missouri in 2017 and played in nine games through is first three years with the Tigers where he went 35/76 passing for 431 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT. Last year, Powell transferred and played for Troy before the Trojans’ former starting quarterback re-took the starting position. Powell was 125/189 passing for 1,251 yards, 7 TD, 6 INT with Troy.
Powell has been listed as the team’s starting quarterback through the spring, and is currently backed up by Austin Smith, the only scholarship QB to return from last year’s roster.
Brian Dooley’s trying to get to the league
Starting right tackle Brian Dooley is on a mission to make it to the next level. The graduate student from Bowling Green, Ohio (Toledo St. John’s Jesuit) still has two years of eligibility to play for the green and white, and he’s been, noticeably, one of the hardest-working players
“I love the game, I want to make it at the next level,” Dooley said in Monday’s press conference. “I've reached out to Andrew Wylie a lot, one of our tackles here, I've reached out to T.J. Lang, I keep in contact still with Maxx Crosby still on the Raiders.”
Dooley added that he’s big on OL Masterminds (by Lane Johnson and Duke Mayweather) and would love to go to one of its annual summits, which have happened since 2017.
“A lot of guys who came out with OL Masterminds, with Lane Johnson, and some of them, I've watched a lot of their videos. My biggest thing is hopefully get invited to one of those. I've got this year and next year, so hopefully I'll get invited to that. But I just want to take in other peoples' ideas and techniques and be able to put it into my toolbox, then kind of tweak it as much as I can, so I think that helps out my game a lot.
“Ever since high school, I've had a lot of guys help me throughout my process going here. I've got a lot of guys on other teams that said I can make it, so they've helped me along the way. That's our studies from high school into college, we all still keep in contact and we all share the same stuff.”
Over his college career, Dooley’s played in 36 games and has made 34 starts at right tackle. Per Pro Football Focus, Dooley was on the field for 911 snaps last year and allowed 17 total QB pressures for an efficiency percentage of 98.1 (3 sacks, 6 QB hits allowed). Over his career (2,300 snaps), Dooley has been flagged just three times: twice as a sophomore, and once last year at Bowling Green.
Dooley was a Third Team All-MAC pick last year and is a preseason First Team hopeful by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele preseason magazines.
On the Colonels
EKU’s going to be sort of tough to predict for schematically, but the players on its roster are definitely going to give EMU a tough run on Friday night. Offensively, EKU likes to spread things out, and uses its dual-threat quarterback and hot-target tight end to find an edge against defenses. Defensively, EKU’s going to come out in a base 3-4, and both sides of the ball are going to be filled with upper-classmen that know what they’re doing.
Head coach Walt Wells, 3rd year (10-10 record), questionable for season opener.
Wells, a two-time former EKU assistant with more than was named EKU’s new head coach in December 2019. Wells, unfortunately, was hospitalized with a "cardiac episode” on Sunday and his status on whether or not he’ll be able to coach Friday’s game is uncertain.
Last year, Wells was awarded the 2021 ASUN Coach of the Year award.
Said Creighton: “Yesterday afternoon, sitting in an offensive staff meeting, we got word that Coach Wells had a medical episode and found out a little more since that time. I don't know him personally, some of the guys on our staff have met him and know him to some degree. I just want to genuinely say that I hope that he is going to have a speedy and full recovery. Obviously I'm thinking about their program, I've been thinking about their program for a long time, but there are a lot of things that are bigger than football.”
#18 QB Parker McKinney 2021: 229/377 (60.7%), 2,429 yards (6.44 Y/A), 18 TD, 9 INT; 96 rush att., 596 yards (6.2 avg.), 6 rush TD, longest rush: 63 yards.
McKinney was an All-Atlantic Sun QB last year after he set school records for pass completions and yards. The QB is also the team’s leading returning rusher and had the longest, individual run on the team last year at 63 yards.
Returning a seasoned quarterback is tough enough, but adding a seasoned quarterback with legs is another dynamic that EMU has to account for.
Said Kline: “They have good athleticism. Their quarterback can scramble, they've got tall, athletic linemen, and they've got good skilled positions. So if we can keep that quarterback in the pocket and make him nickel-and-dime down the field, I think we can have some success.”
#13 TE Dakota Allen 2021: 34 rec., 440 yards, 5 TD
#3 WR Jaden Smith 2021: 38 rec., 391 yards, 3 TD
#5 WR Cornelius McCoy career at Georgia State: 148 rec., 1,809 yards, 10 TD
#74 LT Payton Collins 2021: All-ASUN
Allen returns as the team’s leading pass-catcher as he was second on the team in receiving yards (440), third on the team in receptions (34), but led in touchdowns (5).
McCoy is a senior transfer for EKU who was an All-Sun Belt receiver with Georgia State in 2019, and received honorable mention in 2018 and 2020. He was injured last year and only caught 12 passes.
Said Creighton: “Offensively, first of all, their quarterback returns. Super scary with his ability to run the football and make things happen. Any time you've got a returning starter back at quarterback, you know I just feel as though you've got a little bit of an edge going into that first game knowing what you're going to get and having had that experience. He's got a couple [of] targets that have our full, undivided attention starting with the tight end who might be their best offensive player. We think he's really good and really talented and is a constant threat. And then they have a really long receiver on the outside. I think he's had a number change from this past year, but he's their most productive wide receiver and can really do a lot of damage down the field. Their offensive line is very athletic. Most guys can move, and they can run. We're going to have our hands full, especially this first game not knowing what they've created or dialed up the last 8 months.”
#9 DE Kelton Dawson 2021: 31 tackles (18 solo, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks) 2 FF
#92 DT Shane Burks 2021: 23 tackles (12 solo, 2.5 sacks), 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF
#0 DE TK McLendon Jr. 2021: 24 tackles (11 solo, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack), 1 PBU
#27 HLB Willie Taylor III 2021, at Washington State as DE: 8 games, 13 tackles (5 solo, 2.5 sacks), 1 FF
#33 SLB Matthew Jackson 2021: 102 tackles (57 solo, 11 TFL, 3.5 sacks), 2 IN, 6 PBU, 5 QBH, 2 FF; All-ASUN
#35 WLB Chase Lasater career at FAU: 96 tackles (36 solo, 12 TFL, 1.5 sacks), 1 PBU
#22 MLB Eli Hairston 2021: 49 tackles (19 solo, 3 TFL) 2 INT, 2 PBU, 2 QBH
#11 FS Joseph Sayles 2021: 42 tackles (33 solo, 1 TFL, 3 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF, 1 kick block
Said Creighton: “Their front seven is almost all back, and the folks that are transferred in are proven. There's a really good FBS football player, we call it their Stud position, who was very productive at Washington State who's in their lineup and he'll opposite of what we think is their best defensive player, their field outside linebacker or safety. But it goes, like, redshirt-senior, senior, redshirt-senior, redshirt-senior, redshirt-senior, all with significant playing time and starters, and a very good secondary. They bring back experience, they know what they're doing, they're a really good football team that had some huge wins last year.”
Said Dooley: “They've got speed, they're really fast. But we like to go fast as well, so they're going to have to try to keep up with us. They like to blitz and stuff, so it'll be interesting to see how they blitz against us. Everyone can blitz but until you stop it, you've got to make something else happen.”
K Patrick Nations 2021: 12/16 field goals, long of 51.
EKU, conveniently, returns the ASUN Special Teams Player of the Year from last season as the league’s most accurate kicker.
EMU is 61-61-8 all-time in season openers with wins in five of its last six contests.
EMU is 78-46-5 all-time in home openers with wins in five of its last six tries.
There are 3 MAC transfers on the EKU roster:
#16 WR Jyran Mitchell from Northern Illinois, who caught 20 passes last year
#17 WR Keke McFadden from Kent State
#20 S Jordan Marshall from Ball State
Week 1 MACtion Schedule
Thursday, Sept. 1
St. Francis (FCS) at Akron (6 p.m., ESPN3)
Akron’s home opener, and the first game of the Joe Moorehead era, is actually met with some expectations. Akron has a lot to prove if it finally wants to dig itself upward in the MAC’s standings, and starting things off with a comfortable win over this FCS squad is exactly the kind of timeline this regime change wants.
Long Island (FCS) at Toledo (7 p.m., ESPN3)
Toledo’s in a very similar situation Eastern Michigan finds itself in for Week 1. The upcoming FCS school it’ll host at home should be an easy win, but Toledo’s actually looking for its first-ever win against Long Island after having lost to the school twice, albeit 81 and 82 years ago.
Central Michigan at Oklahoma State (7 p.m., FS1)
This is the easiest Week 1 non-conference game to sell because the CMU-over-Oklahoma State upset already happened somewhat recently.
And of course, the heartbreak moment for Cowboy fans was chaotic as all hell. Or, one of the greatest finishes to a football game of all time:
Eastern Illinois at Northern Illinois (8 p.m., ESPN+)
NIU’s the defending MAC Champions that returns a lot of pieces again from last year. Surely, nothing could possibly go wrong in this Week 1 home opener against a should-be cupcake? The last time Eastern Illinois won more than one (1) game in a season was 2018 when it went 3-8. I’m not being facetious here; nothing could possibly go wrong for NIU, right?
Ball State at Tennessee (7 p.m., SEC Network)
The best upsets, even if they don't last in people's minds as long as they’re deserved. You don’t need a crystal ball to say this. A Ball State upset over Tennessee wouldn’t be nearly as storied as Toledo over Michigan or Northern Illinois over Alabama, but the potential for some random Week 1 anxiety to come out of Knoxville would be an excellent start to the new year.
How would it happen? Tennessee, first and foremost, must out-Tennessee itself for four quarters by being super inefficient through the air. Then Ball State, led by Freaks List honoree RB Carson Steele, has to make Tennessee look JV when it defends the run. Everything else from there, I assume, would fall into place here. Not saying I would put money on Ball State to do it, but you could win a few bucks if you felt like trying it.
Friday, Sept. 2
Western Michigan at Michigan State (7 p.m., ESPN)
Who doesn’t love a good WMU/MSU battle on national television?
If you’re not watching EMU’s game the same night, I wouldn’t blame you if you planned for this in-state game instead.
MSU should probably be the heavy favorite here, and it’ll be fun watching one of WMU’s former receivers go off on his old team. Nothing personal, Jayden Reed’s just really good and I don’t think the Broncos have the options to slow him down.
Saturday, Sept. 3
Buffalo at Maryland (Noon, Big Ten Network)
From the outside looking in, this seems like a great pairing of schools that’d be fun to watch on an annual basis. If either Buffalo or Maryland are reading this, please work up some sort of hatred towards one another and try to play each other as much as possible. There’s no reason for this to be the first meeting between the two schools.
Bowling Green at UCLA (2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
If — IF! — Bowling Green beats UCLA in the Rose Bowl to open up the season, Scot Loeffler will absolutely sign that contract extension on the plane ride back home before he even buckles in his seat belt.
Well, uh, hmm. Well, actually, how would that even work? There’s no athletic director back at BG anymore, and it’s not like Loeffler’s got the entire state of Bowling Green under the spell of his cult of personality.
BGSU’s strength is on its defense, which will have to slow down QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, a super-senior with 34 starts under his belt. If I’m being realistic, I’m going with the team that has the [rare] 5th-year non-transfer QB. But if this ends up being the game that has that weird Week 1 smell to it, you might want to try to hop on over to Pac-12 Network (given you have the right provider).
Florida Atlantic at Ohio (6 p.m., ESPN+)
This will be the first game played at the now-named Frank Solich Field at Peden Stadium.
The Bobcats will have its hands full against FAU in this home opener too as FAU is led by former blue-chip recruit and Miami-FL transfer N’kosi Perry. Last week against Charlotte, Perry had 4 total TD (2 pass, 2 rush)
The bad news to come out of Ohio’s team press conference this week was that RB O’Shaan Allison will miss the year after he suffered a non-contact shoulder injury.
Miami OH at Kentucky (7 p.m., ESPN+)
Regionally, this is a pretty great matchup. The two schools are only two hours apart, and got that pretty promising MAC schools vs. non-top-tier SEC school spice that we all love to see.
I’m not expecting Miami to upend Kentucky, but this is actually going to a game a lot of people, especially those that follow QBs in the NFL Draft, will end up re-watching with Miami’s Brett Gabbert on one side, and Kentucky’s Will Levis not he other. Gabbert’s a former MAC Freshman of the Year award winner, is draft-eligible, and already has the NFL bloodlines through his older brother Blaine Gabbert, who still plays in the league. Though it’s too early to spin the wheels too hard here, Levis is still a very interesting prospect this year. Some football people have already floated the idea of him going in the first round (or at least fairly early) in the 2023 draft.
Kent State at Washington (10:30 p.m., FS1)
Make sure you take a coffee-nap around 8 o’clock if you’re trying to make it to the fourth quarter of this game. As much as a 10:30 p.m. kickoff is a drag for local fans of Kent State to watch live, but at least it’s on an easy-to-find TV channel? For imaging, if Kent State gets involved in a second-half upset or some odd plays just end up happening later on, then Kent State’s brand will get the #Pac12AfterDark boost online.
This will be the first meeting between the two programs. Could fifth-year head coach Sean Lewis get a landmark victory on the road against another former MAC play-caller?
Washington is led by former EMU offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, who was hired by Washington in November 2021. DeBoer was EMU’s OC and quarterbacks coach during most of the Brogan Roback years, 2014-2016, then went to Fresno State (2017-2018), Indiana (2019), then back to Fresno State for his first head coach job (2020-2021).