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FINAL SCORE: Western Michigan 45, Eastern Michigan 21
Chris Creighton said this is a game that was lost during the week.
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The score was 7-0, and Eastern Michigan looked flat.
The weather was great. Your home-state rival is on the other side, and you’re riding a 4-game winning streak over the brown and gold. Western Michigan got on the board first after it scored an 11-play touchdown drive, and the energy completely left Eastern’s sideline.
The worst of what EMU (4-5 overall, 2-3 MAC) would see out of itself was still hours away from happening. EMU still hadn’t seen itself give up two safeties in the same game — which has got to be a first for everybody that at least witnessed it live — or turn the ball over four times.
Vibes? Do people care to read about vibes?
If you subscribe to vibes, then you should know that the vibes simply weren’t there. Football teams on winning teams generally have great vibes.
If you don’t vibe with vibes, then maybe it’s worth noting that this game was lost before Western got off the bus. EMU head coach Chris Crieghton after the game said that WMU (3-6, 2-3 MAC) didn’t do anything special to fool his coaching staff. But his coaches didn’t have a good week leading up tot this one.
“Looking back, this game was lost during the week,” Creighton said. “Not that we didn’t have solid practices and whatnot, but the way that this works in this league… if you don’t physically, mentally, and emotionally prepare to the best of your ability, — and this is not on the guys, this is a coaches’ week — if there is just not that intensity to detail and the growing, in the building, emotional intensity throughout the week, and on gameday to be able to release all that, this is what happened. It wasn’t the techniques that they were playing, it wasn’t the offensive plays that we were running. It was our lack of intensity.
Not once, but twice?
When was the last time EMU had two safeties be scored against it in a single game? It’s going to take a bit of homework to figure out when (if?) the last time that happened, but it won’t be easily traced in either of EMU or WMU’s record books, because neither school keeps up with that stat.
It’s at least the first time I’ve seen it happen at any level of football. And I used to cover high schools and Division 3 colleges. This was a first for me, and I’m going to assume it’s a first for pretty much everybody in attendance for this game.
The first safety for the Broncos came early in the third quarter after the defense created its first turnover of the game. Jalen Buckley, who scored twice in the first half, coughed up a fumble just before his offense reached the red zone and was recovered by Daiquan White. However, a block in the back from Justin Jefferson moved EMU back from its own 14 to the 7-yard line. Trying to throw the ball out of its own end zone, Smith moved to escape pressure, but right tackle Brian Dooley was flagged for holding in the end zone, which meant two points went to the Broncos, including a free kick.
Which, that’s probably not the way Dooley wanted to shine today. For Dooley on a personal football note, he became the Ironman of EMU football today as he broke EMU’s all-time record for starts (56) and games played (58), passing Sidy Sow.
The second WMU safety came after the defense strong-armed WMU’s offense off the field with a pair of goal-line stops that required video review to see if either RB Jalen Buckley or QB Hayden Wolff made it into the end zone with their third and fourth-down carries in the tail-end of the third quarter.
Austin Smith, on second down from EMU’s own 1-yard line, was eaten alive by a whole gang of Broncos that broke through the O-line for a major stop and another two-pointer to make it a 25-13 score.
Ike Udengwu’s first start, Austin Smith finishes in relief
For the first time this season, but not the first time Chris Creighton has pulled this sort of maneuver against the Broncos. Four years ago, it was Preston Hutchinson who made his first career start, in surprise fashion, over an injured Mike Glass to come back and beat WMU in the fourth quarter.
That decision was made as a response to Glass’ injury at the time.
Smith, who started every game this year, isn’t playing up to Glass’ level, but he’s not without aches and pains that’ve piled on throughout the year. It’s not like he came into the year being a completely healthy quarterback, either.
But that’s not to say injuries kept Smith from playing the game either. First-year junior college transfer Ike Udengwu, who played in just one EMU game before this, got the starting nod, but Smith played the majority of the game.
“He came in and definitely fought and gave us a chance,” said Creighton of Smith. “We’ll watch the film and go through all the reads and the balls and whatnot. But he really wasn’t able to practice much at all. So when his number was called, when he got cleared to play late, he didn’t bat an eye by going in there and battling.”
Through its first five drives, EMU’s offense was wiped off the field with two three-and-outs, a fumble by Hamze El-Zayat on the offense’s first catch beyond the first-down marker, a third punt from its own 41-yard line (after a 53-yard drive), then, after Udengwu came out to deal with an injury, Cam’Ron McCoy’s pass to Tanner Knue would be intercepted. Udengwu came out of the game, and Smith finished things out.
Smith, starting from EMU’s own 10-yard line, completed a 5-yard pass to Knue, then let J.B. Mitchell do most of the work on a 50-yard catch and run, and Samson Evans got EMU on the board for the first time with a 15-yard touchdown run. Smith connected with Knue for a 39-yard completion in the third quarter on a drive that gave Evans his second touchdown run of the day — the 11th multi-score game of Evans’ career.
After the second safety, Smith sent in a 2-play drive with his arm: a 7-yard completion to Knue, then a 68-yard dime to Jaylon Jackson, Smith’s longest throw and score of the year.
Still, things weren’t on the up-and-up as much as people might’ve thought when the score closed to a 32-21 in WMU’s favor early in the fourth quarter.
After Smith was hit as he threw on the next drive, and the ball dropped right into a WMU player’s hands. WMU started with the ball on EMU’s 28, but ended up settling for a field goal on the drive.
Then WMU’s defensive pressure got to EMU go to four-and-out, turning the ball over on its own 20. WMU scored on a 5-yard touchdown run three plays later.
Then as Smith was sacked on second down on his next drive, which turned into a scoop n’ score for the Bronco defense.
EMU made it to Western’s 19 on its final drive, but no further than that.
“There’s been a lot of games in the last 10 years,” Creighton said. “I don’t recall many where I have the feeling that I have right now about this game. It’s just really bad, I don’t know how else to say it.”
EMU has had a resurgence of flags thrown against it lately. After the first three games where it was penalized 25 times, EMU had no more than 4 penalties called against it from Week 4 up until last week’s trip to Northern Illinois.
At NIU, 7 penalties.
Against Western, 10.
When asked what the deal is with the re-rising number of penalties, Creighton said: “I’ve got that question too. I’ve got to watch the film because it’s really hard for me to see a lot of the times if it’s not a point-of-attack penalty. I know that the time that they reviewed things, they got overturned every time. Thank God they reviewed some, but otherwise. The discipline, you know, is just totally unacceptable. Again, I don’t always see those, the second guy is usually the guy who gets caught, so I don’t know if it’s a situation like that. We had a stretch there we were getting 2 penalties a game, 4 penalties a game, so we’ll have to look at it.”
Eastern actually out-paced WMU on offense. EMU ran plays at 5.4 yards a snap, WMU was a 5.
The difference is WMU’s field position was crazy favorable. WMU started six of its drives from the 50-yard line or better and scored two touchdowns and two field goals on those drives.
Coming into the weekend, the single-game best performance of the season was 19 tackles. Against WMU, Joe Sparacio had 23 tackles, and Chase Kline had, that’s right, 19. Quentavius Scandrett was in double-digits for tackles with 11.
Smith finished the day 15/25 for 231 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
Udengwu’s day: 6/10, 58 yards.
RB Jaylon Jackson was EMU’s leading receiver with 9 catches for 111 yards and a TD, followed by Mitchell with 5 catches, 99 yards.