For the second week in a row, the Illinois Fighting Illini face a team they have no history against whatsoever: The Eastern Michigan Eagles.
For those brushing Eastern Michigan aside, comparing them to what Illinois faced two weeks ago in Akron and maybe last week against UConn — remember this: EMU went bowling last year, finished 7-6 and beat the same Purdue team Illinois lost to 46-7 in 2018. Sure this is a new season, but EMU deserves some respect as the toughest non-conference opponent Illinois faces this year.
EMU lost to SEC side Kentucky in Lexington last weekend 38-17. All three of EMU’s non-conference games to start the season were/are all on the road — not easy for a team that has not won a conference title in over 30 years. Eagles head coach Chris Creighton’s record is poor at 22-40 just five season in, but his leash is pretty long given EMU’s successes a season ago and how competitive his teams look in conference games. EMU was only blown out once last year, in a game against what would be an 11-2 Army Black Knights team.
WHEN EASTERN MICHIGAN HAS THE BALL
Quarterback Mike Glass III is efficient
The St. Louis area native and current EMU captain throws the ball a ton, and he’s pretty darn accurate. Against SEC foe Kentucky last week, the senior threw the ball 53 times, completing 64 percent of his passes for 337 yards. Both of his interceptions in that game came in the first half — the halftime score was 17-3 in favor of the Wildcats.
In EMU’s opening week game against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (the same Chanticleers team that beat Les Miles’ Kansas Jayhawks last Saturday), Mike Glass III was excellent, completing 20 of his 22 passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions.
He’s a solid runner (7.3 yards per carry last season), and he does a nice job of using his legs to move about the pocket to create enough space for himself to get the throw off. He’s also capable of pulling the ball down and running for a few yards when his receivers can’t seem to get open — sort of like what Brandon Peters has shown these first couple of weeks.
No running game to speak of.... yet
Unlike UConn last week, EMU so far has struggled running the football. Two games in and EMU’s leading rusher is senior Shaq Vann — who has just 93 yards on 30 carries and no touchdowns.
Tulsa area native and 2019 recruit Darius Boone Jr. was supposed to help Vann and EMU’s rushing attack, but he has not seen the field thus far in EMU’s two-game season. It’s unclear why he hasn’t played, but he’s a player who had a P5 offer (Iowa State) and who could open things up for the rest of the offense. Of EMU’s six touchdowns this season, only one was a rushing TD — and that was a Mike Glass III two-yard run against Coastal Carolina.
This is a pass-heavy offense. Mike Glass III can throw the ball 40, 50 times a game and he’s well within his comfort zone. It’s not exactly air-raid, and EMU will try to run the ball occasionally just to keep Illinois’ offense guessing — but don’t expect any more than 20 rush attempts from the Eagles.
WHEN ILLINOIS HAS THE BALL
EMU’s secondary is up for the challenge
Last year, the strength of EMU’s defense was their defensive front in Maxx Crosby (fourth round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders) and Jeremiah Harris. This year, EMU’s best defensive players are in the secondary.
Senior defensive backs Vince Calhoun, Brody Hoying and Kevin McGill are all solid players and all are good enough to see time and possibly start for several Big Ten teams. Calhoun had 10 tackles last week against Kentucky from the safety spot. He had six the week before against Coastal Carolina. Hoying was a beast against Kentucky, recording nine tackles including a half-sack. He also had an interception against Coastal Carolina. McGill is a sure tackler from the cornerback spot and leads EMU in pass-deflections and like Hoying, had an interception against the Chanticleers.
EMU has seniors all throughout their secondary, so Illinois has to be extra cautious throwing the deep ball if the Illini struggle (perhaps with a limited Reggie Corbin?) in the run game.
Special Teams Notes:
Kicking & Punting
As Illini fans, we all need to hail Eastern Michigan sophomore kicker Chad Ryland for putting this smile on every one of our faces a season ago:
Chad Ryland hits the FG as time expires to send @EMUFB past Purdue. pic.twitter.com/1oCovXAbLM— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 8, 2018
Ryland is back, and so far this year is perfect: 3-3 on extra points and converted his only field attempt — a 24-yarder against Kentucky last week.
Punter Jake Julien is one of the best in the MAC. He was in the top four in the conference in average yards per punt each of the last two years and he appears well on his way towards another successful year. He regularly punts for 45+ yards.
Punt and Kick returning:
Thus far in the season, Eastern Michigan appears to have no threat in the return game. They have no return touchdowns or frankly any significant return yardage to speak of. Last year’s returner Blake Banham (average 22.3 yards on kick returns, 10.0 yards on punt returns) graduated and used up all of his eligibility.
Overall EMU Scouting Takeaways:
- Good quarterback and good secondary: Those are the strengths of this team.
- They know how to beat Big Ten teams: Purdue in 2018. Rutgers in 2017. This is a group on the up-and-up, and while they were recently national doormats (1-11 in 2015, 2-10 in 2014), they’ve been to two bowl games since Illinois last went to one in 2014.
- Betting line is between one and two scores, EMU is a stiffer challenge than Akron and UConn: Expect a close game and if the Illini do win, it won’t come easy. One or two touchdowns is the line, and if Reggie Corbin has to miss this game and that information becomes widespread — perhaps the line shrinks in the coming days leading up to the game.