Random notes from Ypsilanti

Saturday dawned as a perfect day for late summer football. Temperatures in the high 70's and not a rain cloud to be seen. But if you're Eastern Michigan, even great weather conditions don't help much in their struggle to become relevant, both on campus and in town.

A quick trip around town saw plenty of EMU football posters, but zero interest by the locals. There were many TV's turned to Ohio State and Notre Dame games, but any question about EMU was met with a blank stare. It sort of reminds one of the attitude among the locals in Highland Falls, many of whom consider game day as a nuisance.

It's even worse on campus. You know the football program is struggling when you can schedule a freshmen orientation in the basketball arena next door to the stadium and not worry about any problems with parking. This program has a long way to go to generate interest.

But they won't do it with their stadium operations. Rynearson Stadium is not a bad place to watch a game. And where else in Division 1 can you sit on the 50 yard line for $3.00? But the operation is poorly run. Fans were not let in until under an hour before kickoff. The concessions were amazingly bad, with everything cold that should have been hot, and vice-versa. It made one pine for the haute cuisine of Michie Stadium (OK, maybe not).

Inside, the stadium is dominated by the sound of their video board. Evidently, they were impressed by the operators of the Michie Monolith last year and were determined to make sure that their patrons couldn't hear the person next to them,either. EMU has a large, good looking marching band, but they spent the game sitting on their horns while rap music spilled from the video board. Made no sense to this observer, but I'm sure the 37 students in the crowd were thrilled.

As for the game, the highlight was the play of the defense in the first half. EMU was stuffed on their initial possession, and things got no better for them the balance of the half. EMU also has many young players learning a new offense, and their line's confusion with Army's schemes were readily apparent. It's hard to remember an Army defense able to blow up as many plays for losses as this group did Saturday. And to find the last time the BK's had 5 sacks in a half would entail searching the cob-webbed section of the record book.

However, not everything was peaches and cream. The second half found the pass rush largely ineffective, due to the Eastern linemen doing a better job and the defenders evidently tiring. This left EMU quarterback Andy Schmitt loads of time to throw and led to the result Cadet fans have been used to for many years. Running back Dwayne Priest was able to do most of his damage during this time, and for a while it looked like the bad old days were returning as the Eagles made a game of it. But the defense was able to again apply pressure late in the game and forced Schmitt to throw an interception to clinch it for the Cadets.

It's clear that the double-flex schemes are just what the doctor ordered for this group. It utilizes the speed and quickness of the upfront players and enables them to make big plays. For too many years, Army defenses have sat back, rushing too few people, taking no chances and letting their opponents roll up gobs of yardage. This is likely to happen to this group too if the upfront pressure is negated by a good OL, but seeing a defense willing to take chances makes any future bad days much easier to take.

The offensive results were indeed a mixed bag. After initial success leading to their first TD, this group performed very poorly until bursting out midway in the fourth quarter. They were very tentative in execution. Trent Steelman seemed confused at times, but to his credit had the presence of mind to take losses rather than pitch wildly. Once things started rolling in the fourth quarter, Steelman played like a veteran. The best part? No turnovers until a fumble in the last 2 minutes.

Other areas of the offense had mixed results. The change putting Ali Villaneuva at WR got off to a rocky start. He looked awkward on balls thrown to him, with a couple bouncing off his hands. The inexperienced OL had a rocky night, causing the bulk of a mind-boggling 11 Army penalties. But after

Eastern Michigan scored to narrow the gap to 13-7, this group came alive. Instead of folding as so many Army teams have done in the past, the offense generated two touchdown's, using the offensive line's ability to blow EMU's line off the ball to power through and run around the defense.. Although Coach Ellerson probably wanted more balance to the attack, the offensive staff was wise to stick with what was working. This may indeed be the dawn of a new day.

The area that got off to the worst start however, was the kicking game. Matt Campbell had a day to forget. Not only were there 2 missed extra points, the one he made was not well-struck either. Army has had a long record of having a good kicking game, even in the lean years of the 70's and early 80's. Over the last 8-9 years however, the Cadets have not had a long range kicker or a kicker that inspired confidence in clutch situations. Including this game, Army has had many situations in the last few years where they could have attempted a field goal in the 45-52 yard range. But they dare not try. This is certainly an area where a big improvement is possible and will help this team win 1-2 extra games during a season.

But now is the time to bask in the light of the program's first ever win in a road opener. This is a team that has a decent shot to be in every game they play. Fans can actually go to Michie this year hoping for the best rather than fearing for the worst. It's been a long, long time.

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