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There Just Isn't an Easy Path Toward Detroit
You'd think a 3-point loss to Toledo could show more signs of optimism, but advanced metrics say EMU's still going backwards in home MAC games.
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Eastern Michigan, technically, can still win the MAC West.
No, EMU doesn’t control its own destiny in the division after Saturday’s 27-24 home loss to Toledo, but EMU can still come out on top if things happen to break in its favor in the final month of the regular season.
Here’s what has to happen for the Eagles: Toledo has to lose out, EMU has to win out, and Ball State, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan must all lose one more game each. (Central Michigan needs to lose once too, but that’d be accomplished if EMU wins out).
A week ago, EMU was a game away from the division’s lead. Now it feels like a long shot. Toledo remains atop the MAC West standings with a 4-1 MAC record while EMU falls to fourth at 2-3. At best, EMU’s looking at a 5-3 record in league play, which won’t be good enough to survive tiebreakers over Toledo if it lost twice or NIU if it wins out. EMU would be able to win tiebreakers over WMU or Ball State either of them finished with similar league records, but Toledo would, again, have to lose all three of its final games for that to matter.
MAC West standings
Toledo: 6-3 overall, 4-1 MAC
WMU: 3-5 overall, 2-2 MAC
Ball State: 4-4 overall, 2-2 MAC
EMU: 5-4 overall, 2-3 MAC
CMU: 2-6 overall, 1-3 MAC
NIU: 2-6 overall, 1-3 MAC
EMU led Toledo through the first, second, and third quarters, but didn’t have the right answers in the fourth. EMU had four possessions in the fourth quarter: Two to potentially distance its lead, and two in the final two minutes to come back from behind. Whether the letdown came from missteps on the field or solid play by the Rockets, the Eagles were outscored 10-0 in the fourth, and EMU is now 0-3 vs. MAC teams at home this year.
The first two losses came by 29 points each to Buffalo and NIU.
This 3-point loss is, said EMU coach Chris Creighton on Monday, is the third-most disappointed his team has been after a loss.
Number one was the 2019 Quick Lane Bowl when EMU lost to Pitt.
Number two would be after the Camellia Bowl when Georgia Southern had its game-winning field goal.
Toledo, without its starting quarterback to finally deliver a game-winning drive after UT had already lost the turnover battle portion of the game and its special teams unit gave EMU extra scoring chances, gave Creighton’s team its third-most disappointing loss.
This team needs a second to breathe. This bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for them.
“A really, really, really quiet team and staff,” Creighton said. “So the break, I think, comes at a good time. If we had won or we lost I think the break or whatever you want to call it, the extra few days, comes at a good time.”
Yes, mathematically, EMU is still in it. This team can control whether or not it still reaches a bowl game, and reaching its sixth win of the season is entirely possible next week when EMU has its midweek MACtion opener at Akron. There will be plenty to prepare for, but first we have to breathe the cold air.
The road wins have been fun. After celebrating a road win at Arizona State, EMU came up big at Western and finally won the turnover battle in a win at Ball State. But for EMU to keep coming back home to lose very important games in front of its own fans, everybody watching this team is left with the same question.
Why are the end results so much better on the road than they are at Rynearson Stadium?
“I don't really have a reason why it's gone so much better on the road than it has at home. It's something that we talk about for sure,” Creighton said. “Guys are excited about being home, you're excited about having the whole team there. We've had some really fun victories and they've all been on the road.”
According to Bill Connelly’s (ESPN) SP+ win expectancy numbers, EMU gave itself a 4.2% chance to beat Buffalo, 3.9% chance to beat NIU, and 1.3% chance to beat Toledo. Meaning, if these teams played each other 100 times, that’s how often EMU would come away with a win. So even when EMU’s gotten out of 29-point losses and into a 3-point loss, EMU didn’t technically improve in its home games against MAC teams.
EMU’s win expectancy percentage should never be under 5% in home, MAC games, especially since it’s Creighton’s ninth year running the program. Somehow, that’s where EMU started and had been going backward, by this metric.
That’s a regression.
“It's not an issue of being locked in and motivated for this game. Our guys knew all week, and we didn't over-hype or over-sell it” Creighton said. “Everybody knew they could control their own destiny in the MAC West and so they knew how important it was, but it was not like it was life and death. I thought we had really the right approach, mindset, and mentality toward the game.”
Having said all that and knowing EMU has yet to pull off a single 3-game winning streak this season, it’s still possible that EMU beats Akron and Kent State on the road, then CMU at home.
It’s incredibly optimistic to say that EMU could win its final three games of the year. Sure it’s possible, but how likely is it that this team backdoors its way into Ford Field at the end of this divisional race?