Week 5 Preview: Eastern Michigan at Central Michigan
Can EMU's offense finally turn the corner against this vulnerable defense?
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What a time for Eastern Michigan to enter MAC play. With last season growing more distant in the rearview mirror, there was a lot of hope entering this season that this year’s group would be able to make another step forward after it had its historic 9-win finish last season. A program taking a big step forward after it just took a big step forward the year before is a lot easier said than done.
And to EMU’s advantage, there is still a chance that this team beats all the necessary MAC opponents to get to the MAC title picture for the first time ever. A lot can happen between now and December for EMU, but a lot has to change for the better when EMU has the ball for that to become a reality. Right now, EMU’s offense is about as effective as the 2014 team when it averaged 4.46 yards per play; this year’s team is moving at an average of 4.44 yards per play. It’s no secret that the quarterback play simply hasn’t been there for EMU to this point and it’s obvious that that’s where the biggest turnaround needs to stem from.
Now that non-conference play is over for Eastern Michigan (2-2 record), there’s no more time to try and tinker with the offense without things affecting the conference standings. This weekend EMU’s got a rivalry matchup in Mt. Pleasant waiting for them, and that’s a team that is looking to wipe last year’s result from everybody’s memory and get back to what they’re used to: not letting EMU have a winning streak in the series.
The last time EMU had two wins in a row in this series against Central Michigan came in 2007 (48-45) and 2008 (56-52). If not for a 2006 OT loss at home (24-17), those would’ve been the final two legs of a 5-game win streak that began in 2004 (61-58, 4 OT) and 2005 (23-20, OT). But the last winning streak EMU had in the series before that? Chances are you weren’t even alive when Michigan State Normal College beat Central Michigan Normal School 7-0 and 13-7 in 1935 and 1936, respectively. I know I wasn’t. That 1936 victory marked nine wins over the last 11 seasons for MSNC/EMU, but the program hasn’t found that same string of success again in the 86 years since. CMU holds the all-time series record 63-31-6.
Last year’s EMU team beat CMU 38-19, and it brought home the Michigan MAC trophy for the first time in Chris Creighton’s nine years as Eastern’s coach. That gave him a 3-6 record in the series with wins in the 2018 (17-7) and 2016 (26-21) seasons.
CMU SP+ Rank: 123
EMU SP+ Rank: 113
Jim McElwain certainly walked into a situation. Former head coach John Bonamego was able to take his alma mater to three straight bowl games in his first three years as the head coach until a historically bad 2018 season that finished with a 1-11 overall record, 0-8 in MAC play. Earlier in the season, Bonamego’s wife, Paulette, was reportedly banned from Kelly/Shorts Stadium after she was involved in an altercation with the late Don Chiodo, CMU’s play-by-play broadcaster at the time. Former AD Michael Alford, now at Florida State, pulled the plug and made a move that a lot of people probably weren’t expecting.
McElwain, who came to notoriety as Alabama’s offensive coordinator from 2008-2011, was a two-time division-winning champion for both Colorado State and Florida in his three-year stays at each. With the Rams, McElwain’s teams had finishes of 4-8, 8-6, and 10-2. The Gators won SEC East titles and 19 total games in his first two years leading the large-scale program, but his third year really defined his career. By the middle of the season, McElwain found himself telling the media that his wife received death threats online and that a player’s mother allegedly said her son received racist messages. When push came to shove, McElwain wasn’t able to show proof of any of this to his bosses, so McElwain had to find himself the door in the middle of the season with a 3-4 record. He spent a year coaching receivers at Michigan, then CMU called.
In his first year, McElwain turned a really bad-looking team into MAC West champs. CMU went 8-6 in his first year there and fell 26-21 to Miami in Detroit. CMU went 3-3 through the COVID season, 9-4 with a Sun Bowl victory over Washington State in 2021, but in 2022, after a summer-time health scare for the coach, CMU went 4-8.
This year, CMU’s (2-2 overall) losses have come in road trips to Michigan State (31-7) and Notre Dame (41-17), and has wins over FCS-level New Hampshire (45-42) and at South Alabama (34-30). By SP+, CMU has had postgame win expectancies of 13.4% and 15.0% in each of its wins this year. New Hampshire came back down 42-28 with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter to tie it up after a 75-yard TD drive and a 71-yard TD pass, then CMU kicker Tristan Mattson game a game-winning field goal in the final seconds to avoid overtime. At South Alabama, the Jaguars came back from a 27-17 deficit to a 30-27 lead with less than three minutes left in the game. CMU quarterback Jase Bauer led the offense downfield for an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown run, capped off by his third & goal run and go-ahead score up the middle.
CMU was able to avoid overtime in its two wins this year, but it certainly came close to it in each.
EMU aims for first road win this year, at Kelly/Shorts since 2011
Last year, EMU finished with a 6-1 record away from Rynearson Stadium. So far this year: 0-2 with a combined score of 46-6.
That is something more commonly referred to as moving in the wrong direction.
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