After a Saturday with no Spartan Football, in which you most likely had to do chores around the house or *shudder* actually talk to your loved ones, Michigan State is back on Saturday, playing against a vintage Eastern Michigan team. Let's take a look at the Eagles in this preview.
The Eagles' Season so Far
Eastern Michigan began the season with a 31-28 win over FCS team Morgan State, with the Eagles needing a field goal in the fourth quarter to secure the victory.
Since then though, it's been all downhill. I'm sure very few people expected the Eagles to pull out the win in Gainesville against the Gators, a game in which Florida scored on 11 of its first 13 drives, racked up 655 yards of offense, and held Eastern Michigan to 125 yards of offense. Eastern Michigan then traveled to face Old Dominion, and the result wasn't much better. The Eagles lost 17-3, and were held to 215 yards of offense by a team in its first year playing at the FBS level. As I said before, this is a vintage Eastern Michigan team, and "vintage" is not even close to a compliment in this usage.
The Eagles on Offense
Eastern Michigan will start its third different quarterback of the season on Saturday when Rob Bolden lines up under center. Bolden's name may sound familiar to some Spartan fans, as he was thought by many to be the QB the Spartans were taking in the 2010 class, but ended up at Penn State. Since then he transferred from Penn State to LSU. Having failed to catch on as a wide receiver at LSU, he graduated and transferred again to EMU for one more year of college football.
From a small sample size, it looks like Bolden's more of a rusher than he is passer. He rushed 12 times for 42 yards against ODU, and he completed 3 of 7 passes for 16 yards. He was also sacked twice and fumbled the ball once. Sadly, this wasn't much of an improvement in the passing game, as Eastern ranks dead last in the FBS in yards per attempt with 2.9. The team above them? SMU, with 4.2 yards per attempt.
Eastern's running attack is a bit better, but not by much. They're 91st in the FBS averaging 3.73 yards per attempt (slightly above next week's opponent, Wyoming). However, that average was mainly buoyed by the game against FCS Morgan State, and in games against Florida and ODU the Eagles averaged 2.4 and 3.0 yards per attempt respectively. The aforementioned Bolden is a threat to run along with RB Bronson Hill; Hill averages 4.6 yards a carry.
The Eagles on Defense
On defense, the Eagles aren't much better. They're 114th in the FBS allowing 6.76 yards per play. They're just as compliant in run defense (5.41 yards per play, 113th in the FBS) as they are in pass defense (8.3 yards per attempt, also 113th in the FBS). This is normally where I highlight certain players who the offense needs to watch out for, but assuming the offense can stay upright for four quarters, scoring shouldn't be a problem.
Three Keys to the game
- Avoid injuries, especially on the offensive line. The starting right guard in camp, Connor Kruse, looks to be almost healed after a lower-body injury and will most likely return next week. In today's edition of "News for the Obvious" -- injuries hinder a football team's ability to perform, and should be avoided. Offensive line is where MSU can least afford any more injuries right now, so let's keep Travis Jackson and the boys healthy.
- Get the backups on the field ASAP. This goes along with the first key. One thing Dantonio did that I liked against Jacksonville State is that he got a large number of Spartans playing time in the second half, to the detriment of covering the spread. The spread for this game is MSU -45, and one reason I wouldn't give the points in this game is that many, many players will be seeing the field for Michigan State in this game. This game is the best opportunity for walk-ons to see playing time this year, and I'm guessing we're going to be seeing quite a few.
- Keep it vanilla. There's no need for flea flickers, double reverses and the like in this game. Straight ahead runs and passes will do such fine, and keep the fun stuff in the playbook for Nebraska.
Two years ago Eastern Michigan came into Spartan Stadium, and led 7-3 at halftime. Michigan State was up 9-7 going into the fourth, and eventually pulled away to win 23-7. Tomorrow's game will not be like that game for one main reason: the Spartans' offense is now a fully realized unit and not the dumpster fire of 2012.
According to all three of Football Outsiders' ranking systems (FEI, S&P, F/+), the Eagles are one of the three worst teams in the BCS. Sagarin has the Eagles as the 197th best team in college football (this includes FCS teams). As a point of comparison, Jacksonville State is currently 83rd (right behind Illinois!).
So while the Eagles almost gave the Spartans an embarrassment for the ages two years ago, I expect this game to be a Spartan win with few complications. While it won't have the hype of two weeks ago, it'll be a nice return before MSU faces a tougher Wyoming team next week.