By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Ron English's first season in Ypsilanti was a forgettable one, as his Eagles stumbled through an atrocious winless campaign.
Eastern Michigan was horrendous on both sides of the football, and with the
exception of a few close games, the Eagles had very little chance of claiming
a victory. Surprisingly, one of those close matchups came in the team's second
game of the season, as EMU scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to tie
Northwestern on the road, but only saw a possible comeback dashed in the final
seconds when the Wildcats connected on a field goal to grab a three-point win.
After that tough loss, the Eagles were embarrassed in four straight matchups,
but once again had a chance against Ball State, but again the Eagles let a
chance slip through their hands. Holding a two touchdown lead early in the
third quarter, Eastern Michigan surrendered 16 unanswered points to fall to
0-7 on the season. That setback was followed by back-to-back losses to
Arkansas and Northern Illinois, and in those games the defense for EMU
surrendered a whopping 113 points. It did not get much better after that, as
the Eagles stumbled through three more poor performances to finish the year
OFFENSE: After averaging a poor 278.3 ypg last year offensively, one hopes
there is nowhere but forward for the Eagles offense in 2010, but that rest
solely on the play of sophomore quarterback Alex Gillett. Last year as a true
freshman Gillett seemed overwhelmed and that showed in his inability to avoid
interceptions (seven) and his low completion rating (49.6 percent). However,
hopes are with that experience he will be better prepared for the upcoming
season. If Gillett however is unable to get the job done there could be a
chance for freshman Devontae Payne to work his way onto the field, but whoever
is taking snaps for EMU that player will have the luxury of working with an
experienced line that returns three starters and a fourth in Bridger Buche,
who missed all of last year with an injury.
"It's hard just sitting there watching your team," said Buche. "And after a
season like last year it was even harder, so I'm just ready to get back out
there and help the team do what we need to do to win."
If Buche and the rest of the line can give the quarterback enough time to find
a target, there is one receiver that could emerge as a big play threat, and
that is Kinsman Thomas. The 6-2 sophomore is a dangerous downfield option and
should become a favorite in Ypsilanti this season. Also benefiting from a
veteran line will be Dwayne Priest, who was the only bright spot for the
offense this past year. The tailback rushed for just 633 yards and seven
scores, but if the passing game is improved, look for Priest to reach the
1,000 plateau this season.
DEFENSE: Simply put the defense for EMU was demolished by the run last season,
as the unit allowed a mind-boggling 276.8 ypg on the ground and an
astronomical 39 rushing touchdowns. It is hard to be that poor against the run
for two straight seasons, so expect an improvement in the area, even if it is
a slight one. The return of Javon Reese and Brad Ohrman at defensive end give
the Eagles two experienced pass rushers, and the incoming junior college
transfers Lavon McCoy and Jasper Grimes should give Brandon Slater some help
at the tackle spot. If McCoy and Grimes can contribute instantly, look for EMU
to perform better against the run.
There will be three new starters at linebacker this season, but fortunately
for coach English senior Tim Fort and junior Marcus English both served time
in the starting lineup a few times last season. English is another key to the
team's efforts to stop the run, if the gritty linebacker can build on his 41
tackles from last season he could end up being the top player on this defense.
The defensive backfield surrendered just 150.5 ypg through the air a year ago,
but that number is deceiving, because so many teams simply ran the ball
against EMU thanks in large part to big leads. Overall the backfield needs to
improve as well, but hopefully the addition of Latarrius Thomas, a transfer
from Louisville can help at safety.
"It's been a little bit of a long road," said Thomas. "I came, you know the
whole you have to sit out a year. I lost a few credits, but everything is on
the right track, so everything is on the up and up. I'm just excited to play."
SPECIAL TEAMS: While the offense and defense have experience, the special
teams unit has to start from scratch. Thomas Baertschi, who is a junior, will
not only be the team's kicker, but he will likely take care of the punting
duties. Corey Welch only returned seven kicks last season, but he showed he
was capable of doing damage in that department, so it is likely that he will
be the team's main return man this season.
OUTLOOK: Are the Eagles as bad as they were a year ago when they went winless?
No. However, they still are nowhere near the top teams in the conference, and
will likely stumble through another rough campaign. The only difference this
year is that the team is good enough to steal a game or two.
Other then opening the season at home against Army, Eastern Michigan's out of
conference schedule is brutal, as the team will face Vanderbilt, Virginia and
Ohio State on the road. However, in conference the Eagles avoid Temple and get
Central Michigan and Northern Illinois at home. However, regardless of where
the Eagles play they have a tough task ahead of them. This squad is still most
likely a year away from cracking the .500 mark.