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FINAL SCORE: Jacksonville State 21, Eastern Michigan 0
EMU's offense threw itself off the field and finished with its first 'goose egg' since 2014.
If Eastern Michigan was going to close out its non-conference schedule on a high note, it was going to have to be with the help of its offense. Defense and special teams have been playing up to a quality level, but the offense — staring at its quarterback position — needed to show instant improvement.
All three quarterbacks saw the field in the first half. Not one of them provided the spark the offense needed, and the scoreboard shows it.
Jacksonville State 21, Eastern Michigan nothing.
As a team, EMU’s offense…
averaged 2.4 yards per play (64-152),
completed just 45% of its passes (13-29),
threw three interceptions,
averaged 1.6 yards per rush (35-57),
converted only one time on third down (1-15),
converted zero third downs (0-3),
picked up just 10 first downs all day,
punted eight times,
turned the ball over on downs twice,
and, for the first time since 2014, was shut out.
EMU’s (2-2 overall) offense lacked a pulse whereas JSU (3-1), which had a 14-0 lead, only scored one time in the second half. This wasn’t the same shutout Chris Creighton’s Eagles faced in 2014 when EMU faced off against the Florida Gators. EMU was downright out-matched in that game, but this Jax State team only had a 2-1 record (and a bye week) as a first-year FBS program. Worthy of my respect coming into the game, of course, but some advanced projections saw this being a one-score game.
None of the projections I saw had EMU averaging zero points.
The first drive of the game was Eastern’s longest of the day: 30 yards.
By halftime, it was evident that EMU’s offensive struggles wasn’t going to be fixed in the handful of practices after a 2-point scare after the UMass game. Down 14-0 at the half, EMU had just 106 yards of offense on 39 plays (2.72 yards/play), and was just 1 of 9 on third down.
I wish I could feed you the line of “EMU made some halftime adjustments and turned some things around in the second half,” but that just wasn’t the case.
At the end of the day, this is certainly a game EMU will want to use as a model to never, ever, ever replicate again. Kind of like last year’s Louisiana road trip. With the rate this offense is moving through four games, it’s clearly going to take more than pep-talk motivation and flushing a box score down the toilet to turn things. If that was the solution, things wouldn’t have gotten so out-of-hand at Jacksonville State.
Just in time for MAC play to open up, too.
Austin Smith returned as the starter for this Jax State road trip, but he didn’t see every snap.
Ike Udengwu III, a first-year transfer from Mt. San Antonio College (in California), saw the field for the first time this season, as did second-year player Cam’Ron McCoy.
McCoy saw the field first of the backups, but only for one play. After a completed pass behind the chains on third down, McCoy took the field for a 4th & 2 opportunity in JSU territory. JSU coach Rich Rodriguez called a timeout to properly match personnel, and the Gamecock defense stuffed McCoy’s designed run for a seven-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
Udengwu played in EMU’s 3rd, 4th, 6th, and final four drives of the game (10-13). Switching from Smith to Udengwu was a chess move in that Smith wasn’t being trusted to try to connect with deep throws, whereas Udengwu would instantly come in and try to connect with some deeper passes. Then when Smith saw the field again, try to force the defense to cheat the run and short-pass game more to open up a surprise, deep opportunity.
Some chances were out there, but J.B. Mitchell, the heavy target on those deep pass attempts from both QBs, didn’t get the big catches he was hoping to have back in his home state (Alabaster native). Mitchell was targeted seven times and caught just three passes for 23 yards. His longest catch was 14 yards.
Ike Udengwu: 7/18, 42 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 1 sack
Austin Smith: 6/11, 53 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 5 sacks
It’s probably easiest to just read the drive chart to you to sum up how the offense
After the turnover on downs: punt (3-and-out), Udengwu interception, punt (5 plays), punt (6 plays), turnover on downs (Smith completed 14-yard pass to Mitchell on 4th & 25), punt (3 plays), Smith interception, punt (5 plays), Udengwu interception, and one last punt (3 plays).
The run game wasn’t much better, but Jackson was able to make his own yards on some of his carries to finish with a 4.5 rush average (17 carries, 76 yards). Samson Evans had only three carries for six yards. Still, it’s hard to create balance with the run game if the quarterbacks throw 16 incompletions and get sacked six times.
Mitch Tomasek had college football’s 2 longest punts in this game (one erased)
If it wasn’t obvious that Mitch Tomasek has a chance to repeat as the MAC’s best punter, then this game made that message very clear.
His first punt from JSU’s 45 was downed inside the Gamecocks’ 4. His second punt was just a 39-yarder to give JSU the ball on their 31.
Then the Colombus Canon recorded the longest punt of this college football season: 72 yards!
Out of his own end zone, which ended up being a normal spot for him to punt from all evening, Tomasek’s punt bounced and rolled to the JSU 8-yard line for the nation’s longest-recorded punt of the year.
Then on the next punt Tomasek broke his own record. From EMU’s 26, Tomasek’s punt roared all the way inside JSU’s 1 for, what could’ve been, a 74-yard punt. Unfortunately, there won’t be a good paper trail of it because a roughing the kicker foul on Jax State would give EMU a new set of downs. He was obviously back on the field in a hurry, but chased that moment with a 54-yard punt still to force the Gamecocks inside the 20.
On the books, Tomasek only had one 70+ yard punt in this game. But at heart, Tomasek truly had back-to-back record-setting punts.
Tomasek would go on to have punts of 42, 52, 50, and 48 yards. For the day, Tomasek had eight punts for 398 yards (49.8 average), and three that landed inside the 20-yard line.
Defense limited damage
Coming into the game I was skeptical of how Rich Rod’s NASCAR offense would match up against EMU’s defense in the middle of the field, but I thought EMU’s defense was at least a better matchup against the defense in the red zone. EMU’s already proven it can limit damage in short field, and the best way to keep Jacksonville State from scoring — which is a team that’s always fast but not usually efficient — was by limiting the explosive scores.
JSU ran 83 plays, but only executed three explosive plays. Logan Smothers, the season-opening QB2 for JSU who played the whole game, had a 24-yard pass pickup in the first quarter and a 41-yard scoring run in the second. In the third, JSU RB Malik Jackson cut all across the field for a 27-yard gain to the 1-yard line, which set up a touchdown two plays later.
Touchdowns were scored against EMU’s defense just three times. The defense even forced seven punts, a turnover on downs, and the first drive — a 12-play, 74-yard drive that started from its own 3-yard line, ended with a missed field goal. Even though there weren’t any takeaways, EMU’s defense held JSU’s fast-paced offense to plenty of quick exits. Of its 14 drives, half of them finished without scores in four or fewer plays ran.
The only true downside of note is that EMU didn’t create a ton of noise behind the line of scrimmage. Just two tackles for loss to match the secondary’s two pass breakups. No sacks were made, Chase Kline finished with one QB hurry.
EMU was without leading receiver WR Tanner Knue. Though missed, the game likely wouldn’t have been much different with him on the field.
Also not in the game, of note: CB Joshua Scott, DT Ugo Nosike, DT Alex Merritt, DE Mikey Haney, DE Sterling Miles, OT Chris Mayo.
Advanced stats via gameonpaper.com:
Success rate: EMU 25% (first percentile), JSU 45% (68th percentile)
EPA/Play: EMU -0.56 (0th percentile), JSU -0.06 (37th percentile)
Explosive play rate: EMU 2% (2nd percentile), JSU 4% (9th percentile)
Havoc rate: EMU 27% (99th percentile), JSU 3% (4th percentile)