Not a Mirage! Eastern Michigan 30, Arizona State 21
Austin Smith and Samson Evans run all over Arizona State for EMU's first-ever Pac-12 win.
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Final: Eastern Michigan 30, Arizona State 21
Eastern Michigan made history after dark.
The Eagles entered Saturday late night’s game at Arizona State as 20-point underdogs and beat the Sun Devils 30-21 in the desert.
Yes, you read that right.
And those that saw the game on the Pac-12 Network saw which team played with more muscle. That wasn’t a mirage from the heat and it wasn’t the late kickoff playing tricks on anybody’s eyes.
Eastern went out and earned this win from start to finish. At no point did Arizona State have the lead in this contest.
This is the first time EMU’s ever achieved a win over a Pac-12 school and its fourth win over a Power 5 program overall. All four of these P5 road wins have come over the last six seasons.
Eastern Michigan (2-1) knew that it couldn’t get pushed around in the desert. The Sun Devils have a lot of talent on paper and tend to play very physical. It has an established coach in Herm Edwards leading the program, and, climately, sending a team named Eastern Michigan to a state called Arizona usually comes with its own set of difficulties.
The two questions I expected to ask myself during this game were: How can EMU beat the heat? And, can EMU keep up with Arizona State?
But once backup QB Austin Smith made his first career touchdown pass look easy to put the Eagles up 17-7, the game’s conversation took a major shift. It was Arizona State who was caught playing from behind. Would the Sun Devils ever catch up to Eastern?
Even when Eastern’s starting quarterback Taylor Powell got knocked out of the game early in the second quarter, the offense didn’t miss a beat when #19’s number was called.
Smith, sophomore from the Atlanta area, snapped his helmet up after Powell was knocked out of the game early in the second quarter. Powell was sacked hard, hard enough to be taken out of the game and wrapped his shoulder with ice on the sidelines as Smith took over.
Playing to their quarterbacks’ strengths, EMU’s offense changed to be more read-option oriented, and let Smith do everything he could to pull off the road win.
Smith was smart and efficient running the option for EMU, and Samson Evans set the standard for how hard and physical you’d have play that night.
The RB had a career day before halftime. His 96 yards at the break was a new career high (previously 89, vs. Eastern Kentucky), but Evans finished the game with 257 rush yards on 35 carries, tied for third-most yards in a single game with Bronson Hill vs. Ohio in 2013.
Top single-game EMU rushing performances
291 yards by Larry Ratcliff vs. Eastern Kentucky (1971)
283 by Bronson Hill vs. Toledo (2012)
257 by Samson Evans at Arizona State (2022)
257 by Bronson Hill vs. Ohio (2013)
251 by Larry Ratcliff at Idaho State (1971)
251 by Ime Akpan vs. Southern Illinois (2002)
Austin Smith’s breakout game
What a night to show everybody what you’re all about.
Smith came into a really tough situation, but he played up to the moment every snap of the way.
Smith, who already had a first-down run early in the game before he was called to play after Powell’s injury, helped EMU drive straight downfield and calmly put a touch pass in the air for Hassan Beydoun to come away with the reception.
It was Smith’s first career touchdown pass, Beydoun’s 7th career TD grab.
The bread and butter for Smith, though, wasn’t with his arm. EMU instantly broke out the read-option playbook and simplified Smith’s decision-making and let him attack with his feet. Between Smith’s good choices in the read option game and Evans’ desire to run physically up the middle, EMU’s offense was qued up to gain some yards on the ground while killing some clock with the lead on the road.
Smith gave the ball to Evans for EMU to score on its final drive before halftime to go up 24-14, and helped set-up drives for EMU to nail three field goals.
Jesus Gomez, new starting kicker for the team, has been perfect on his PAT attempts so far this year, but this was this first game he was tasked to try to make three points. And Gomez did, he made all three of this first collegiate tries.
On the opening drive of the game, EMU threw its way from the 35-yard line downfield, but a botched screen pass play to Evans brought out Gomez to try his first kick from 27 yards out. The lefty’s kick was perfect, and it set the tone for how the rest of his night, as well as the team’s, would go.
After a turnover on downs gave EMU the ball on its own 39-yard line, Evans opened the drive with a 28-yard run, but the offense didn’t quite finish the job with a touchdown. Gomez ran out to try a 39-yarder, which would be perfect again for EMU to take a 27-14 lead.
Gomez’s third field goal midway through the fourth quarter from short-range again, and he’d be perfect again (30-21).
Final thought, for now
It was an unlikely scenario, but that’s when you always manage to find these things happening, right?
Eastern Michigan beat Arizona State — the first MAC over Pac-12 regular-season victory ever. EMU ran for a truckload of yards and demanded its respect on the other side of the country in the desert during the absolute worst time slot possible.
Note: Complete stats + box score were not available for at least an hour after the game’s completion.
My first home game as an EMU student (transferred in as an academic junior) was against Central Connecticut State in 2019. I think we all remember that game. My recollection is that we did not play at the level we did against Illinois until the second half of the Ball St game on homecoming. Have to wonder how things might've been different that year if we didn't have that let down in performance. I'm choosing to believe this year's team is going to sustain this level of performance going forward.