Week 3 Preview: Eastern Michigan vs. UMass
Round two of Chris Creighton vs. Dr. Blitz.
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Let’s drum up last week to a splash of cold water in the face, shall we? To see how far Eastern Michigan really has gone, the answer is the same for anybody in this sport always trying to prove something. You have to go out there and win again.
EMU (1-1 overall) took its lumps, now it’s time to move on and prove that it’s better than it has shown. Everybody watching this sport expects EMU to come back home and take care of business at Rynearson Stadium against one of the worst teams in the game.
But I doubt UMass (1-2) is going to come to town just to lie flat.
No matter what rankings or list you find UMass at or near the bottom of, I’m still coming into this week thinking that EMU’s going to have its hands full on Saturday.
UMass SP+ Rank: 131
EMU SP+ Rank: 107
In last year’s game, EMU’s slow start on offense meant that it had to come back from a 13-0 deficit in the third quarter in front of the home crowd. In his second career start, Austin Smith responded with a pair of touchdown passes: an 8-yard strike to Darius Lassiter and a 39-yard lob to Tanner Knue. Darius Boone rushed in for an 8-yard score, and the defense hung on to stop UMass from scoring anymore. EMU ended up winning 20-13, a lot tighter of a game than the road win in 2021: 42-28.
In 2014 and 2015, EMU lost the then-conference matchups by scores of 36-14 and 28-17.
Next year, EMU is going to open the season at UMass. The Minutemen will actually play five MAC schools over the first six games of the 2024 season.
No, this Saturday isn’t a conference meet-up, but it does feel like it should be.
UMass’ short-lived time in the MAC wasn’t full of victories, and its basketball program was still doing well in Atlantic 10 play. UMass, the home of Dr. J and a Final Four run in 1996, prioritized hoops (and other regional ties for olympic sports) so much so that it wouldn’t budge on joining the MAC as a football-only team. The MAC wouldn’t budge on letting UMass continue its time in the conference after 2015 without full-time status.
So they split, and that’s the last time the MAC’s membership changed.
As a MAC school, UMass won eight games and lost 40. UMass went 7-25 in MAC play from 2012-2015, and it hasn’t joined a league since.
As a lowly independent trying to gain some momentum in the college football landscape, UMass decided to hire back Don Brown, who was the team’s head coach in 2004-2008, then a defensive coordinator at five schools after. He’s a real New Englander and he gets it. He’s been around the block.
Back then, UMass was in the A10, then the Colonial Athletic Association, for football too. In his third season, he led UMass to a 13-2 record (8-0 A10) and made it to the FCS National Championship game (lost to Appalachian State 28-17). The year after that, a 10-3 record and a quarterfinal-round appearance. After a 7-5 finish in 2008, Maryland hired Brown away to be its new D.C.
Brown went to UConn for a year, Boston College for three, then finally made it to lead Michigan’s defensive staff in 2015. He lasted five years at Michigan and helped the Wolverines to top-10 finishes in his first four years. He spent a year in Arizona with a first-time head coach Jedd Fisch, then found his way back home in 2022.
Year #1: a 1-11 record. Underwhelming, but nobody’s surprised by the result.
Year #2: so far, a 1-2 record. Not an improvement, but it’s a slow build for the Minutemen. Brown’s certainly re-stamped the defense his way and used the transfer portal to try to capture some talent for his offense.