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Well, Now What?
EMU hasn't had a proper 3-game winning streak since 2018.
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By the end of Saturday’s game, the scoreboard read this: Northern Illinois 39, Eastern Michigan 10.
Translation: It’s time for some hard, behind-the-scenes conversations at EMU.
Chris Creighton said he was out-coached in the game by Thomas Hammock of Northern Illinois immediately after the game. Maybe Creighton was out-coached all week, he conceded.
“I didn’t have answers,” Creighton said. “Couldn’t move the ball. Couldn’t score points, couldn’t get into any rhythm offensively.”
This is the second time this season that Creighton has lost a home MAC game by 29 points to a coach that’s spent less time in the league than he has. This is Hammock’s fourth season, and Maurice Linguist is in his second year with Buffalo.
In the two non-conference games EMU hosted this season, the team rallied to beat FCS-level Eastern Kentucky by eight points, then needed a second-half comeback when it found itself down 13-0 in the third quarter to beat UMass.
As I noted before, Saturday’s game was the start of EMU’s most-important 3-game stretch of the MAC season with all divisional opponents. While the Western Michigan win had its own historic merits, it didn’t change the season's picture for anybody. EMU had to follow that up with wins over its MAC West opponents. Getting to four wins in divisional play before November was the ideal situation, especially since it started out with a MAC East loss.
But after NIU came into Rynearson Stadium and beat the Eagles by barely using its zombie quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who was 11 of 15 passing on a bad left leg, how can EMU look at its next two games and feel good about its shot at winning a divisional title?
Ball State’s not perfect, but it’s on a three-game winning streak where it’s come back in the second half in each (the NIU game went into overtime). In the third and fourth quarters of Ball State’s winning streak, the team has outscored its opponents 46-20.
Toledo faced its biggest task of the MAC schedule Saturday when Kent State took a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, but UT surged on to win the game by 21 points. In short, this is easily the best Toledo team since 2017.
If EMU beats its MAC West teams, especially the good ones, then the team’s in a good spot to do what it ultimately wants to accomplish. However, if EMU loses to the bad MAC West teams, then it’s time to re-evaluate.
Yes, NIU won the MAC last year. And yes, the media picked NIU to do it again this year. But just because NIU’s made its run at MAC championships most of last decade (and last year), that doesn’t mean EMU’s fans should spend this time kissing NIU’s ring. There’s no need to be fooled, NIU’s not secretly the best Group of 5 team out there.
NIU wasn’t in its best shape, and EMU, while dealing with injuries of its own, the offense looked back to mostly normal. Say for Alex Howie’s injury at right guard, it was the first game where Dylan Drummond, Hassan Beydoun, and Tanner Knue all got to start and play together again since Week 2. Aside from Drummond’s catch and run to set up a field goal, there weren’t many chances for them to make plays.
At some point in the game, EMU tried for a 57-yard field goal because it was one of the few opportunities for the Eagles to get a score in the game. The would-be school-record field goal kick was short, fitting for the desperate attempt.
The loss prevented EMU from riding into Muncie, Ind. with a 3-game win streak. In Creighton’s 101 games coached at EMU, here are all of the winning streaks (min. 3) the program has had:
3 games, 2016: at Charlotte, vs. Wyoming, at Bowling Green
3 games, 2018: vs. CMU, vs. Akron, at Kent State
3 games if we cheat, 2020 end + 2021 opener: at WMU (2020), vs. NIU (2020), vs. St. Francis (2021) 4 games if we cheat, 2017 end + 2018 openers: at Miami (2017), vs. BGSU (2017), vs. Monmouth (2018), at Purdue (2018)
This year’s team motto is Stack ‘Em because that’s been missing in Creighton’s eight previous seasons with the team. Only twice have there been proper 3-game winning streaks. The NIU game was squarely put on a tee for EMU, but fell four scores short of making the third winning streak of the Creighton era.
EMU’s proved to be a patient program for Creighton, and it’s worked out in a way. This is a team that’s gone bowling more often than it used to, and the locker room isn’t in an obvious, toxic situation. The program’s winning games it didn’t used to, but now, on the field, it’s trending towards the kind of team he took over for.
If losing to MAC teams at home by 29 points on the regular is the new managed expectation, then EMU has absolutely nothing to worry about and can keep carrying on with its business, no matter how few fans it attracts. But if that’s not what EMU wants its expectation level to be, then my question is this: what does the program envision for itself in the immediate and distant future?