2021 Eastern Michigan Football Preview: Schedule, 4 Things

Eastern Michigan was picked to finish fifth in the MAC West division when the media poll came out last week during MAC Media Day. While the Eagles are a much more respected group these days with how many one-score games they find themselves in, many many of these tight games still fall in the loss column.

This year seems a lot like another typical outlook with Chris Creighton still at the helm (8th year): Plenty of promising talent scattered throughout the roster with a positive culture to lean on; but will it all turn into a winning season?

Schedule

2020 EMU football schedule, final results

SP+ final rank: 107 (51 offense, 125 defense, 32 special teams)

  • L @ Kent State, 27-23 — EMU missed PAT kick and 2 pt. attempt following two separate TDs, so this game is theoretically even closer than its final read. RB Darius Boone picked up 68 rushing yards (long: 34), but came out of the game via injury in the second quarter after nine carries. QB Preston Hutchinson: 21/35, 241 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT, sacked 4 times, -16 rush yards, 1 rush TD.
  • L @ Ball State, 38-31 — QB Hutchinson ran for 118 yards and 3 TD to lead EMU, and Ball State RB Caleb Huntley led the game with 209 yards, 3 TD. No sacks for Ball State D, 3 sacks and an INT (54 yards, Noski LaFleur) for EMU’s.
  • L vs. Toledo, 45-28 — Toledo’s deep passing game was working with both Eli Peters and Carter Bradley (4 TD total), and RB Bryant Koback picked up 149 yards on the ground with 1 TD. Toledo DE Jamal Hines with a pick six.
  • L vs. CMU, 31-23 — A late collapse at home for EMU, which led 17-6 at half time before CMU scored 25 points in the fourth quarter. The reason: four second-half turnovers (3 INT, one off a helmet) from the Eastern offense. CMU RBs Lew Nichols III and Kobe Lewis combined for 302 yards and 3 TDs on 47 carries to keep the Chippewa offense moving forward.
  • W @ WMU, 53-42 — Eastern scored on all but one drive against Western, which fumbled the ball away three times. RB Boone racked up 148 rush yards, 1 TD, and former walk-on WR Tanner Knue had a pair of TD receptions.
  • W vs. NIU, 41-33 — NIU’s offense punted the ball away six times (four 3-and-outs), and EMU was fortunate to have a forced fumble by CB Kempton Shine that turned into a 61-yard return by S Mark Lee early in the second half.

2021 EMU football schedule

SP+ preseason rank: 107 (48 offense, 127 defense)

  1. vs. Saint Francis
  2. at Wisconsin
  3. at UMass
  4. vs. Texas State
  5. at NIU
  6. vs. Miami
  7. vs. Ball State
  8. at BGSU
  9. bye
  10. at Toledo (Tue.)
  11. vs. Ohio (Tue.)
  12. vs. WMU (Tue)
  13. at CMU (Fri.)

4 Things

Rushing attack under Creighton

Since Darius Jackson was leading the way at RB for this team, this offense’s rushing attack hasn’t reached those same heights. While RBs like Shaq Vann and Ian Eriksen have had some success, Jackson was still playing at a higher level in 2015 — and it’s about time for the pendulum to swing back in EMU’s favor, right?

YrRush attRush ydsRush avgRush TDTop RB statsTop QB stats
20144591,6543.69Brumfield-95 att, 348 yds (3.7), 4 TDBell-133 att, 562 yds (4.2), 4 TD
20154211,8944.520Jackson-208 att, 2,078 yds (5.2), 14 TDRoback-51 att, 47 yds (0.9), 1 TD
20164802,0684.321Eriksen-184 att, 771 yds (4.2), 9 TDRoback-63 att, 223 yds (3.5), 2 TD
20174221,5553.714Eriksen-179 att, 805 yds (4.5), 8 TDRoback-40 att, -47 yds (-1.2), 1 TD
20184931,8903.823Vann-135 att, 590 yds (4.4), 5 TDGlass-71 att, 412 yds (5.8), 6 TD
20194181,5903.821Vann-149 att, 715 yds (4.8), 8 TDGlass-118 att, 428 yds (3.6), 8 TD
20202197453.411Boone-44 att, 254 yds (5.8), 2 TDHutchinson-87 att, 192 yds (2.2), 8 TD
Sacks on QBs not accounted for in table above.

I really do like the group EMU has this year. I’m excited for what a full (and hopefully all healthy) year out of Darius Boone might look like. I like his big-play potential, and Samson Evans showed his strength last year after he transferred in from Iowa. Plus, D.J. Smith and Trey Bess are both still freshmen and have a lot of promise.

Preston Hutchinson (or the Cincy transfer?) at QB

EMU has the privilege of having its starting quarterback be a guy that’s been in the system since 2017 and was a full-season starter in 2020. The pandemic took away Hutchinson’s chances to really gel with the first and second-stringers during preseason preparation, so he was tasked with a lot of read option run plays and mesh concept pass plays. Hutchinson had a QB rating of 148.1 on fewer than 200 throws with 12 TD and 6 INT. As a runner, Hutchinson led the team with 8 TD with 206 net yards (307 gained, 101 lost) on 87 attempts (14.5 att./game, 34.3 yards/game).

EMU also added Ben Bryant via transfer from Cincinnati during the winter and was with the team through spring drills. Bryant might be better suited to get more passes downfield and at least add some air raid elements to EMU’s offensive playbook. I’d expect EMU to try to go in that direction at least a little bit (especially if the WR room sees improvement), but I don’t really expect EMU to commit to being a full-on air raid team either. This coaching staff has shown that it’s going to try to do a lot of different things with its offense most weeks of the year.

Hutch is still junior eligible and Bryant is listed as a senior. EMU’s not new to juggling two quarterbacks to fit its offense, but how much more will one be favored than the other this year?

The D-line

If EMU rises above its fifth-place-in-the-MAC-West expectations, a lot will have to be proven through its defensive line. I think it’s already a pretty good unit, but this group will have to control the line of scrimmage against its divisional foes.

DE Turan Rush is one of the better power edge rushers in the league and is primed for another big year of getting after the QB (5 sacks in 2019, 4.5 in 2020’s half season). DE Jose Ramirez, DT Alex Merritt and DE Mikey Haney all add a lot of talent to Eastern’s D-line and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team’s tackles for loss figure rise with some added improvement out of all of them. However, I’m most interested in seeing if these guys can create more turnovers through forcing fumbles. Rush, Ramirez, Merritt, and Carter Stagner all had one forced fumble apiece in 2020. Can EMU’s D-line force twice as many turnovers in a full season?

Additional help from transfers

EMU, like many schools, had the chance to add some [immediate] talent through the transfer portal. I’ve already touched on the team’s addition at QB through the portal, but here are some others that I’m going to watch out for this year:

  • S Brandon Benson — Immediate graduate transfer from Bucknell. He was a First Team All-Patriot League free safety in the shortened spring season of 2021. In 2017 as a true freshman, Benson played in every game for Bucknell and was third on the team with 68 tackles. Over 200 career tackles recorded.
  • OL Dimitri Douglas — Transferred after the 2019 season from Michigan State, but sat out 2020 due to the old transfer policy. He’s listed as EMU’s current backup LG (Sidy Sow starter, 31 games and 29 starts) but probably has the versatility to move around and be one of the top OL off the bench.
  • RB Jawon Hamilton — Immediate transfer from James Madison. Isn’t on the two-deep for offense, but the depth chart does have him listed as one of the potential names for returning kicks or punts. Right now, WR Dylan Drummond is the listed #1 punt returner, and WR Hassan Beydoun is the #1 kick returner. In three years at JMU, Hamilton ran for 1,510 yards on 257 carries (5.7 avg.) and scored 11 TD.
  • S Jarrett Paul — Transfer from Rutgers, started eight games in 2019 but did not play in 2020.
  • WR Dennis Smith — Immediate transfer from Duke, listed as Tanner Knue’s backup at the X. Last year, caught 16 passes on 31 targets and scored 1 TD.
  • WR I’Shawn Stewart — Immediate transfer from Oregon State, listed as Hassan Beydoun’s backup at the H. Stewart, from Bolingbrook, Ill., did not play in his three years with the Beavers. Stewart was offered by EMU when he was a three-star athlete out of HS.

I don’t know where to fit WRs Latrell Fordham or Zach Westmoreland on here, so they get their own paragraph down here. Neither played football in 2020, but both graduated HS in 2019. Fordham was set to go to Ball State, but ended up not attending after the team’s WR coach left for Colorado State. Westmoreland initially went to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, but did not play in 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic.

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