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Army vs Eastern Michigan Eagles: Mission Planning and Preview

The Black Knights travel to Ypsilanti, MI to take on the Eastern Michigan Eagles in what should be a great follow-up to the heart stopper the two played last season

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Last week won’t be a game Jeff Monken wishes to repeat too often. A lower body injury kept starting quarterback Kelvin Hopkins out, and backup Cam Thomas was 0-2 in his only two attempts. The Black Knights had the ball with under 10 minutes to play, leading 21-7. Nobody, then, could have dreamed it would take a goal line stop on a two point conversion attempt in double overtime to hold off the Redhawks of Miami-Ohio.

Thomas had no trouble with the running portion of the triple option, that’s for sure. The sophomore carried the ball 26 times for 137 yards with a long of 52 yards.

You may recall something similar happening last year, on homecoming as well, against Eastern Michigan. Again needing double overtime, the Eagles decided to go for the win and were stopped just short of the win by James Gibson.

This time, it’s Army who will travel to Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti Saturday at noon eastern to participate in Eastern Michigan’s homecoming. Fortunately for Army, their leader on offense, Kelvin Hopkins, Jr., is expected to play.

Eastern Michigan is now most famous for their transitive win over Ohio State. Weeks before Purdue whipped the Buckeyes in front of Tyler Trent and the nation, it was Eastern Michigan who scored the 20-19 victory. After that, however, the Eagles lost four straight—by 16 total points—including three on the road. Outside of that four game stretch when Eastern Michigan couldn’t seem to get things rolling, the offense has been has been humming, averaging over 35 points a game.

Eagle Offense:

Eastern Michigan’s offense ranks 56th nationally in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ ratings system, and the offense can be lethal with their backs against the wall. Tyler Wiegers and Mike Glass III have bounced back and forth in the starting role at quarterbacks, but the pair combine for 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions on the season.

Glass is 52-85 for 757 yards, but it’s his feet that make him dangerous. The dual-threat QB has 52 carries for 387 yards this season—an average of 7.4—and has the ability to turn would-be sacks into big gains. Wiegers is the more likely of the two to start. He was the player of the game last week for EMU, completing 22 of his 29 passes for 257 yards and four touchdowns. The offense is more dangerous with the 6’4 227 lb pocket passer in the game, but Glass is a nice change of pace on the ground.

Two of the top four rushers this season line up under center for the Eagles, but the leader in yards is Shaq Vann. The 5’10, 215 pound bowling ball averages just 3.8 yards per carry on high usage numbers. Last week against Ball State he had just 63 yards but ran the ball 20 times. He has just four touchdowns on the season, due in large part to Glass’s six rushing TDs. Look for Glass to split carries with Vann once the Eagles enter the redzone.

Easter Michigan features a talented, deep wide receiver room, albeit without much size. Four Eagles have over 250 yards receiving this season but only one of them stands over 5’11 and that’s 6’0 Arthur Jackson. What they lack in size they make up for with their reliability. Just one player with a catch all season has a catch rate below the national average of about 62%. If Glass or Wiegers can get the ball in the area, these veteran receivers will go and get it.

Blake Banham is just 5’9 195 but has 37 catches for 479 yards and three touchdowns this season. Jackson and Banham are joined by Mathew Sexton, Line Late, and Dylan Drummond all with more than 10 catches so far this year. Offensive coordinator Aaron Keen will enjoy spreading the ball around Saturday, with two quarterbacks likely to line up under center, four running backs with more than two dozen carries a piece, and 11 total receivers catching a pass so far this season, it’s anyone’s guess who has the ball on any given play.

Eagle Defense:

For Army to win their sixth game this season and reach bowl eligibility for the third straight year—their first in program history—they’ll need to run on a defense that has been rather suspect on the ground. Eastern Michigan is 102nd nationally in rushing efficiency but 57th in explosiveness. That is, when teams run they tend to get the yardage they need on that down, but Eastern does a good job of not losing contain for huge gains.

That’s just fine with Army.

Eastern Michigan features Alabama-esque Maxx Crosby at 6’5 247 along the defensive line. Crosby has 4.5 sacks, 11,5 run stuffs, three forced fumbles and two pass breakups this season. Without a doubt he’s been the anchor on the defensive front for the Eagles, and keeping him quiet will be a challenge for any team.

Kyle Rachwal and Jaylen Pickett are big and fast at the linebacker position. They combine for 87.5 tackles, 15.5 of them for a loss, and 20.5 run stuffs this season. The pair are disciplined when necessary but quick at the point of attack. Pickett has also forced three fumbles so far this season and as always, in a game where possessions are limited, forcing turnovers means more than ever.

The Eagles start three seniors and have two more in their two-deep in the secondary. They rank 39th in passing efficiency and when teams are forced into passing downs (read: second and long or third and medium), Eastern is eighth nationally in efficiency. With the way EMU stops the run, don’t look for passing downs to come up all too often.

Eagle Coaching:

Chris Creighton is in just his 5th season in Ypsilanti, but the San Francisco native has 21 years of head coaching experience. After taking over a program on the verge of dropping to FCS or being discontinued altogether, what Creighton has done is nothing short of incredible. Ron English was just 11-46 at Eastern, and he followed Jeff Genyk who left with a 16-42 mark. Creighton’s 19-38 mark suddenly looks pristine by comparison.

You may remember Eastern Michigan switching to a gray field turf back in 2014, or the infamous video of Eagle players trying and failing to knock down a brick wall Creighton had built for the teams entrance onto the field. When Creighton arrived at the school located less than 10 miles from Ann Arbor, the school needed an identity. He added gray uniforms, switched the field turf to a dull gray, and built a wall (literally) to instill a tough mindset in his team and the program.

After starting 3-21 in his first two seasons Creighton has done just that. The Eagles went 7-6, playing nationally ranked Western Michigan close, and reached only their second bowl game in school history. Year four saw a slight fall to 5-7, but at 4-4 so far in 2018, and with hapless Central Michigan and Kent State still on the schedule, a second bowl game in three seasons should follow.

For that program, a statute might also.