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Week 3 Football Preview: Eastern Michigan at Arizona State
Week 3 MACtion and EMU football preview, with picks against the spread!
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Week 3 Football Preview: Eastern Michigan at Arizona State
Saturday, Sept. 17 (11 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)
The dessert isn’t going to be kind to Eastern Michigan on Saturday. After spending last weekend down in the bayou of Louisiana in the South, this team’s going to be weather-tested going west.
The extreme heat isn’t hyperbole. Saturday in Tempe, Ariz. is expected to see a high of 100 degrees, and the players will be lucky if things cool off closer to its 74-degree low during the game.
The weather is one obstacle and the Pac-12 football team on the other side is another, but this coaching staff has one more question that it’ll have to try and answer in the lead-up of this game.
Are these players getting enough rest?
Saturday’s contest at Louisiana started at 7 p.m. (ET) and ended around 11:30 p.m. with the hour-long lightning delay right before halftime. The team didn’t get back home until closer to 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, and EMU head coach Chris Creighton said that some of his players hadn’t gotten any sleep until after the team’s meeting on Sunday evening.
“We might adjust practice a little bit here this week, just making sure our guys are rested,” Creighton said. “It's both this week and cumulative effect of the next week so we just have to be really smart with that.
“Our guys have to be disciplined and get rest and make sure they're eating right. But yeah, we're ready to go."
Ready to go is one thing, but ready to withstand the heat in a state that plays closer to the sun than what EMU’s players are used to year-round is a test unto itself. There’s no way to replicate and crank up the dry heat during an adjusted practice week.
It doesn’t help that the Sun Devil team waiting for EMU to arrive this weekend is both talented and physical. If EMU gets ground down early by Arizona State’s muscle, then this team might be on the brink of another sleepless ride home with league play looming in Week 4.
Eastern Michigan’s (1-1) upcoming game at Arizona State (1-1) will be the first matchup in the two programs’ history.
This game is also just Eastern’s second trip to a Pac-12 school, for football, ever. The only other meeting of such happened back in 1988, fresh off EMU’s California Bowl-winning season, when the then-Hurons lost 55-0 at Arizona.
Last 5 vs. Power 5
2018: EMU 20, Purdue 19 (away)
2019: Kentucky 38, EMU 17 (away)
2019: EMU 34, Illinois 31 (away)
2019: Pitt 34, EMU 30 (Quick Lane Bowl)
2021: Wisconsin 34, EMU 7 (away)
Since EMU’s first-ever win over a Power 5 school in 2017 (16-13 at Rutgers), EMU’s been able to hold its own in Power 5 competition with two more against the Big Ten schools (Purdue, Illinois).
Before things got good, these road trips would get downright nasty. In Creighton’s first season EMU got dropped 65-0 to Florida and 73-14 to #11 Michigan State. EMU would lose in their SEC road trips to #9 LSU in 2015 and to Missouri in 2016, but since 2017 EMU has a 3-3 record against Power 5 schools.
Finding success at the goal line
When Eastern’s offense is able to shorten the field to its advantage, the team will sometimes break out the Wildcat package to maximize its potential in short-yardage situations.
Out of the Wildcat, RB Samson Evans will take the snap and he can either run the ball himself, hand it off to RB Darius Boone right next to him, or he can hand it off to one of the slot receivers moving on a jet sweep. Or, as the team pulled on last weekend in Louisiana, Evans can fake the run and jump-throw the ball to TE Aaron Jackson.
“We feel as though we've been pretty efficient in our short-yardage package. You always want to have adjustments and additions and ways to to keep people honest and attack in ways where we think they might be weak when they're trying to stop what we're doing. So that jump pass was one of those adjustments we've seen off of that.
Just two games into the season, Evans has scored a rushing score out of the Wildcat once, Boone has one score from last week, and Jackson’s TD catch was the first score of his career.
Evans and Jackson are both former high school quarterbacks, too. Evans played in a run-heavy offense, so making the transition into running back after graduation was fairly seemly. Jackson, from Detroit (Cass Tech), was a dual-threat QB when he signed with EMU in 2018, and ended up changing positions in 2020.
In 2020, Jackson caught three passes for 23 yards, and last year Jackson ran the ball 6 times for 27 yards.
The TD reception last week was his first touch of the year.
“I think he was definitely excited. It's interesting because touchdowns are a really big deal and whatnot, but for him he did a really good job of selling it and releasing,” Creighton said. “It's a big deal and exciting and all of that, but the actual execution of the play was really quite simple, so that might take away from some of the initial celebration. But he's done a really good job of that transition into that H position. He's a really good athlete and we're asking him, unlike in the quarterback position, to learn how to block and still run and catch the ball and all of those things, and he's done a really come along.”
On the Sun Devils
Head coach Herm Edwards, 5th year (26-19 record)
Week 1: Arizona State 40, Northern Arizona 3 (at ASU)
Week 2: #11 Oklahoma State 34, Arizona 17 (at Ok. St.)
Without going into too many rabbit holes about Herm Edwards’ situation at Arizona State, the former NFL head coach took up the Arizona State opening in 2018 and is on the titular ‘hot seat’ this season. A change in his position sounds imminent, but he’s still going to be on the sidelines this weekend.
Arizona State beat its FCS opponent handily to begin the season, but lost last week at Oklahoma State. By SP+, Arizona State is the #52 ranked school overall with the #64 ranked offense and #36 ranked defense.
#1 RB Xazavian Valladay: 36 att., 234 yards (6.5 avg.), 3 TD
#4 RB Daniyel Ngata: 17 att., 91 yards (5.4 avg.)
#5 QB Emory Jones: 25/42 passing (59.5%), 1 TD, 375 pass yards (8.9 Y/A), 17 rush att., 31 net rush yards (1.7 avg.), 2 rush TD
Florida career, 2018-2021: 279/432 passing (64.6%), 3,347 yards, (7.7 Y/A), 26 TD, 14 INT; 235 rush att., 1,273 yards (5.4 avg.), 10 rush TD
#2 WR Elijhah Badger: 10 rec., 129 yards, 1 TD
#20 WR Giovanni Sanders: 4 rec., 115 yards
Arizona State’s offense is highlighted by its quarterback, but you might have to look around him to see who the heavy-hitters of the unit are.
EMU, Creighton said, is going to have its hands full right at the line of scrimmage. At Monday’s press conference, the head coach said that Arizona State’s offensive line is about as good as what this program saw in 2019 against Kentucky and last year at Wisconsin. Last year, ASU’s O-line pushed for 150 rushing yards in 10 straight games. The Devils are down three starters from last year, but it brought it a handful of transfers with 62 combined starts among them.
“They run the ball about 65% of the time, it's a lot of downhill with a quarterback that can zone-read it and keep it,” Creighton said. “It's going to be a physical, hard-hitting, they're going to try to move us run game. And then the weapons on the outside are really fast, long, they have a really good tight end.
“It's not we're going across the country and it's going to be a spread, playing in space and all that kind of stuff. It's going to be a physical game.”
Starting safety TJ Peavy shared the same sentiment.
Peavy, an Atlanta-area native, played in 7-on-7 tournaments against current Arizona State quarterback Emory Jones throughout high school (Heard County).
Jones was a blue-chip recruit out of high school who ended up signing and playing for Florida from 2018-2021 and came to ASU this year during Florida’s coaching change.
“They're very talented up front. The quarterback — I'm from Georgia originally. Their quarterback's from Georgia as well… and he was very highly recruited. We used to play 7-on-7 against each other, so I know he can do the pass game but also the run game, Peavy said Monday during the team’s press conference. “Big kid, he can run the ball very physically. Same as well with the running backs.
“I would say they're going to be a pretty tough team to beat.”
#49 DL Travez Moore: 8 tackles (2 solo, 2 TFL), 1 QB Hurry
#15 S Khoury Bethley: 8 tackles (5 solo, 1.5 TFL)
#58 DL Joe Moore: 8 tackles (1 solo, 1.5 TFL), 2 QB Hurries
#34 LB Kyle Soelle: 21 tackles (11 solo, 0.5 TFL), 2 INT, 1 QB Hurry
#8 LB Merlin Robertson: 17 tackles (5 solo)
#7 CB Timarcus Davis: 1 tackle, 2 pass breakups
#4 NT Nesta Jade Silvera: 9 tackles (3 solo), 1 forced fumble
Arizona State’s defense was very, very stingy last year. It’s been the Pac-12’s leader in scoring defense two years in a row with 23.3 points per game allowed in 2020 and 20.8 last year. The Sun Devils were also the Pac-12’s leader in yards per play allowed last year at 4.97. Opponents only scored 21 points against ASU in seven games last year.
For as productive as the team was last year, it had some players to replace this offseason. The Sun Devils lost their #2 and #4-9 tacklers from 2021, but went transfer portal shopping, much like it did with its offensive line, to fill in some necessary holes.
Said Creighton on Arizona State’s defense: “Defensively, it starts with their D-line. They're really deep there, really talented. Again, just very physical. They play a number of people and things don't change when those guys come in. They're backed up by their two team captains, their two inside linebackers who we think are two of their best players. Box players, but they run, they can cover. And then a really good secondary, led by one of their corners, #7 (Timarcus Davis). They're super talented.”
Week 3 MACtion Schedule & Picks Against the Spread
Saturday, Sept. 17
Battle for the Bell: Cincinnati vs. Miami at Paycor Stadium (Noon, ESPNU)
This is the oldest non-conference rivalry in the country with 125 total meetings between the two. Depending on how old you are, there’s a chance you’ve never seen Miami come out on top in this game. Cincinnati’s won every game since 2006, and last year’s 49-14 win over the RedHawks finally tied the all-time series record at 59-59-7.
So now I’ll ask the same question I’ve asked every year I’ve been covering the MAC: can Miami finally figure something out and snap Cincy’s winning streak?
Cincinnati, of course, was the first Group of 5 school to make it into the 4-team College Football Playoff and is currently quarterbacked by Ben Bryant, who spent the 2021 season with Eastern Michigan.
Yeah, I think we're reminded every day he (Luke Fickell) really emphasized that, and we don't take that lightly. So it's really important to respect the rivalry like Coach Fick has preached to us and we're really looking forward to that challenge this week.
ATS pick: Miami +22.5. Bryant did not have a lot of success against Miami last year when he was leading Eastern Michigan’s offense at home. Playing for Cincinnati is much different than playing for EMU in this series, but I like the RedHawks to keep this game close enough for long enough to cover.
Long Island at Kent State (Noon, ESPN3)
ATS pick: LIU +33.5. Flashes should win big, but I don’t know what to make out of either program at this point in the season. Kent State’s not the best-looking East team, and still has a lot to prove before I can believe it’s a 5-touchdown favorite over anybody, even if LIU’s new to the game.
Buffalo at Coastal Carolina (1 p.m., ESPN+)
After getting Hail Mary’d on to lose to Holy Cross, Buffalo is the one MAC school I’m currently the least confident in heading into Week 3.
ATS pick: Coastal -14. The Chanticleers opened the week as 20-point favorites, but the line has shrunk to them being 14 or 13.5-point favorites instead. Still, I think Coastal has the ability to run away with the game if Buffalo doesn’t come up with a good way to slow down QB Grayson McCall.
Bucknell at Central Michigan (1 p.m., ESPN3)
ATS pick: Bucknell +40. Obviously, I have to be a hater here, but also CMU hasn’t shown the same kind of flare many expected to see during the preseason. At least not yet. Bucknell could get run over, but CMU can still give up a few points right now.
Ohio at Iowa State (2 p.m., ESPN+)
ATS pick: Ohio +18.5. Last week at Penn State was a wash, and Iowa State (led by former Toledo coach Matt Campbell) just beat Iowa last week. I don’t expect this game to be too points filled, and maybe a few big plays out of Kurtis Rourke can get Iowa State to play panicked.
Murray State at Ball State (2 p.m., ESPN+)
ATS pick: Ball State -20.5. Two basketball schools going at it, I trust Ball State’s talent on the outsides to take care of business here.
Vanderbilt at Northern Illinois (3:30 p.m., CBSSN)
ATS pick: NIU -2.5. Somehow this feels like a trap because SEC teams shouldn’t be in a MAC house, let alone travel to its second G5 venue in the same season, but here we are. If Vanderbilt would’ve played Wake Forest better, then maybe I’d feel better about their chances, but I like the way NIU’s played in the second-half of games, even if it mean losing to Tulsa by 3 last week.
Marshall at Bowling Green (5 p.m.)
I take it back. If — IF! — Bowling Green were to beat Marshall this week, not UCLA in Week 1, that would be the funniest thing to happen on the year.
This is because of some new context through the first two weeks of the year. Notre Dame of all teams, the preseason #5 team, is now 0-2 for the year after losses to Ohio State and Marshall. Marshall, formerly a MAC school who has recently moved to the Sun Belt from Conference-USA, is a well-respected G5 program, but not one that should ever beat Notre-freaking-Dame.
Bowling Green has the same record as Notre Dame after both schools lost to teams they shouldn’t have at their home sites last week. I don’t expect Bowling Green to put up much of a great fight here against, potentially, this year’s future Sun Belt champions, but it’d be funny if the Falcons were able to pull off this upset at home.
ATS pick: Marshall -17. We are.
Toledo at Ohio State (7 p.m., FOX)
Big game on the field of course, and Toledo’s going to have some added reason to play up to the moment.
This will be the first time Toledo will be playing its game on a national broadcast channel rather than cable. Last year’s contest at Notre Dame would’ve been on NBC, but the network wanted to use the game as an opportunity to lure football fans into signing up for its Peacock streaming service and hid the game behind that wall.
I don’t know if Toledo will be able to beat this Ohio State team, which is essentially a preseason Playoff write-in, but maybe Toledo can do itself some favors by playing well in front of more eyeballs than ever before and parlay that into a much-improved brand for it.
If Toledo ends up losing by just 10 points, then who knows what the internet will do with that? Notre Dame lost by 11.
ATS pick: Toledo +32.
Pitt at Western Michigan (7 p.m., ESPNU)
Between Toledo’s game at Ohio State and this one in Waldo Stadium, the MAC’s going to have two really interesting matchups against P5 schools.
Last year, Western Michigan actually got to celebrate a 44-41 win at Pitt, the team that would eventually win the ACC championship.
What more of a selling point do you need?
ATS pick: Pitt -11. I don’t feel very confident in this one, but only because of how last year’s game ended. Which is also why I think Pitt will have its issues cleaned up and take care of WMU. WMU has the home fans, but the home fans can’t replace Kaleb Eleby and Skyy Moore.
Akron at Tennessee (7 p.m., ESPN+)
Like I said before, there will be two pretty intriguing MAC games going on at the 7 o’clock block.
ATS pick: Tennessee -47.
Per Phil Steele’s preseason magazine