Kent State Week: Game Preview, Players to Watch, Week 1 MACtion Slate
EMU opens the 2020 season with a road trip to Kent State.
Images via Eastern Michigan Athletics
Welcome to The Ypsilanti Eleven! Today’s finally the day I never thought I’d see coming: MACtion kickoff in the fall of 2020. It’s been 314 days since Eastern footballers have taken the field and after watching many leagues try to have their own illegitimate seasons this fall, MAC players are ready for their turn to kick the football season off (even with the dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases all over the place).
Tonight at 6 p.m. on ESPN+ (not on cable), EMU opens against Kent State on the road. For the college football fans that universally love small schools that have capture lighting in a bottle: Kent State’s been one that people have been rooting for ever since Sean Lewis took over. The Flashes play fast, the team has an exciting playing style, and weeknight games like these were made for guys like Dustin Crum to shine.
To see how EMU responds, I’ll have words for your inbox tomorrow. All you have to do is sign up for free updates from me. Hit that button beneath if you wouldn’t mind, and then I’ll tell you what to expect tonight.
Eastern Michigan (2019: 6-7) at Kent State (2019: 7-6)
Eastern opened the year second-to-last in both MAC Coaches and Media polls last week, just ahead of Northern Illinois in each. While last year’s team featured one of the league’s best quarterbacks, the Eagles finished the regular season 6-6, then finished the year with a bowl loss against Pitt in Detroit. In the regular-season finale, the Flashes beat EMU in Ypsilanti 34-28.
Kent State rode that high through the Frisco Bowl as the Flashes took down a very motivated Utah State team (51-41). The storyline I can’t get out of my head from that game is this: Kent State QB Dustin Crum out-dueled Jordan Love, who became a first-round draft pick months later. Crum’s not just the under-valued quarterback from a G5 school that could have a shot in the NFL one day. Crum looks every bit the part of somebody who could make a lot of money one day. And head coach Sean Lewis is going to make sure he gives his QB the best chances to make plays in his “Flash Fast” offense.
Newer-looking position groups for EMU
Eastern’s going to look new to a lot of casual viewers (44% returning production in Feb.) with a lot of starters and rotational players gone from last year. Still, EMU feels good with where it’s at program-wise, and it’s betting on player development to come through in a big way in 2020.
Yesterday, I went more in-depth with the 2-deeps, so check this out if you haven’t yet. But here’s a quick rundown of how different EMU’s going to look on both offense and defense.
QB: Preston Hutchinson had a great game in his lone start vs. WMU, but this is his first season as the starter. No. 2 listed is walk-on Christopher Kaminski.
RB: D.J. Smith of Texas and Darius Boone Jr. of Oklahoma are a pair of exciting freshmen that will be competing for a lot of touches this year. We’ll see what they look like on gamedays.
WR (depth): Redshirt and true freshmen receivers will probably get some playing time since there are only four returning players in this group.
DL: Aaron Hamilton will get his first start at DT tonight against Kent State.
LB: Tariq Speights can probably hold it down at the MIKE spot, but this is his first time starting for the Eagles since he transferred from Valencia College.
DB: Of the five defensive back spots, only Freddie McGee III and Blake Bogan return to their positions. There’s a ton of talented corners that have been recruited in over the last couple of years, so there could be plenty of rotation there. Alvinoski LaFleur and Russell Vaden IV will have to replace Brody Hoying and Vince Calhoun, respectively.
4 Eagles to watch
There are 22 guys on the field at all times, so they all have their own reasons to focus on, but I’m going to try to narrow things down to just four guys for this exercise.
#1 Jairus Grissom
Grissom’s not on EMU’s 2-deep, but I’m 100% convinced that the multi-talented offensive player will see the field just plenty, and Chris Creighton’s just doing what he can to keep Sean Lewis & co. guessing. I’m also 100% convinced you’ll see him take snaps from multiple positions tonight/this season.
#28 Greg Kelley
Another non-2-deeper. Kelley was only recently introduced to the football team, but his story is compelling and he’s a guy to root for. He’ll be on the defensive side to play at the ROVER-safety position that he was initially recruited to play in (at UTSA) six years ago.
#12 Jeff Hubbard
Hubbard’s not listed as a starter, but he appeared in both two-deeps as a backup free safety and backup corner. In a year where EMU’s trying to keep its identity through its newer players, Hubbard’s going to be looked at as a guy to step up and make plays at a moment’s notice no matter what spot he’s thrown into.
#12 C.J. Parks
Last guy on this list, also not on the 2-deep. Parks is a Cerritos College transfer and if you spent any singular minute watching his junior college highlights, you’d know that he could be a legitimate X-receiver if things pan out positively. Would love to see what that talent looks like on the field right now, Covid setbacks be damned.
4 Flashes to watch
Kent State’s offensive playing style is easy to hook onto, but Dustin Crum doesn’t have a ton of his targeted options from last year back on 2019. Here’s a list of four Flashes, aside from Crum, that could make an impact tonight.
#23 Isaiah McKoy
McKoy’s the real deal. Of all returning MAC receivers, this 6’3 junior for Louisville, Ky. is the best deep-ball threat in the league. He led all MAC receivers last year 79.1 yards per game at a second-best 5.2 receptions-per-game clip. McKoy also led all MAC wideouts with eight touchdowns last year, which is probably important to note. Kent State’s going to go his way a lot.
#34 Kesean Gamble
Not a typo: Gamble is a 274-pound linebacker. Gamble’s a reliable senior linebacker and all but my goodness this man is huge.
#2 Matthew Trickett
Trickett’s the league’s best kicker, and he was dynamite all last year. EMU doesn’t want to be in a position where Kent State gets the ball with two minutes left, especially if the Flashes could set themselves up with a walk-off win from one of his kicks. EMU also doesn’t want to keep letting Kent State’s offense cross midfield to let Trickett make three or four easy ones.
#0 Zayin West
West is a junior defensive end wearing the new #0 this year. He made 50 tackles last year, including four behind the line of scrimmage. If EMU’s O-line is really the team’s strength, then it can’t let this guy get free and make plays.
One more thing
I cannot stress this enough. Creativity on EMU’s offense is going to be the main thing to look out for. The fact that there’s not a lot of info on a lot of the skilled position players on offense means that there’s a lot of guesswork that opposing defensive coordinators will have to deal with on the fly. And if EMU’s players end up being efficient on the trick plays from the start, then they’ll keep mixing things up to keep getting points on the board.
Week 1 MACtion Schedule, Game Picks
I’ve already published my weekly game picks over at MAC Football Forever, which you should totally check out, but here we go with my picks for tonight’s matchups.