GAMEDAY: Scouting report for Eastern Michigan

If you've watched the offense of Coach Randy Walker at Northwestern and before that, when he was coaching at Miami (Ohio), then you already have a general idea of what Eastern Michigan will be trying to do when the Eagles face the Florida in the Gators' season opener in The Swamp on Saturday.

Walker runs a spread offense with a single back, four wide receivers and a tight end, but unlike most spread offenses that are designed to isolate wide receivers in one on one coverage to open up the passing game, this version is designed to eliminate linebackers by forcing nickel packages, thus opening up the running game. Make no mistake about it, this is a run-first offense designed to control the ball while opening possibilities for long gains in the passing game when the secondary begins to creep too close to the line of scrimmage. It is a philosophy that worked extremely well for Walker when he was the head coach at Miami, but it has had mixed results in the Big Ten.

Eastern Michigan Coach Jeff Genyk is in his first year at the Ypsilanti, Michigan school. Other than a stint at a junior college, his entire coaching career and philosophy has been shaped at Northwestern, first by Gary Barnett, for whom he served as a grad assistant for two years before moving up to become a full-time assistant. When Barnett moved on to Colorado in 1999, Genyk was retained at Northwestern by Walker, who kept the power running formula of Barnett, only doing it from the spread. At Eastern Michigan, Genyk has installed the three-wide, single back spread offense with a bit of a twist in that the quarterback is used as the second option in the running game. Genyk tries to use a 60-40 run-pass mix.

Genyk, a former Bowling Green quarterback, coached running backs, special teams and served as recruiting coordinator for Walker before landing the job at Eastern Michigan.

Genyk brought Howard Feggins with him from the Northwestern staff to become his offensive coordinator. Feggins, a former North Carolina defensive back in his playing days, coached the wide receivers at Northwestern.

The run-first spread attack is a good fit for the personnel that Genyk inherited at Eastern Michigan, which features senior tailback Anthony Sherrell, who led the Mid-American Conference in rushing last year with 1,531 yards, no small feat for a team that finished the season at 3-9. His best game last season was a 230-yard effort against Ball State (38-14 victory by EMU) in which he scored four touchdowns. He also led the Eagles in receiving last year with 44 catches for 304 yards and one touchdown. Sherrell, a fourth year senior, sat out his first year. Under the NCAA academic guidelines, he can earn a fourth year of eligibility if he is able to graduate in May.

Sherrell is not a big back (5-9, 193 pounds) but he has excellent quickness into the hole and a nice change of direction. In EMU's season opener, a 37-34 win over Buffalo last week, Sherrell rushed for 151 yards on 24 carries including a 66-yarder for a score that represented the longest run of his career. For his efforts, he was named the Mid-America Conference back of the week.

The quarterback is Matt Bohnet, a junior transfer from Iowa. Bohnet ran for 92 yards on 23 carries in the season opener, adding 91 through the air with an 11-20 effort that resulted in two touchdowns. The EMU staff cannot be pleased that Bohnet threw an interception, lost three fumbles, took a sack for a 17-yard loss and was hit behind the line of scrimmage for an additional 29 yards in losses. .

Wideout Duan Bracey, a converted defensive back, had the most productive game among the receivers with three catches for 46 yards against the Buffalo defense, including a 30-yard gain that was the longest pass play of the day for EMU. Tight end Adam Jacobs and wide receiver Chris Talley each caught just one pass, but they were for touchdowns.

Other than Sherrell, the real standouts on the team are on the offensive line which averages well over 300 pounds per man. The best of the linemen is Tim Kaleita, a 6-5, 318-pound left tackle who is a senior and a three-year starter. Center Mike Romeli (6-2, 296) and right guard Jason Robert (6-3, 292) were starters last year. Right tackle Jerome Feutcher (6-4, 316) was a part-time starter last year while redshirt freshman Khalid Walton (6-4, 320) steps in to start at right guard.

Eastern Michigan managed just 339 yards of total offense against Buffalo, which finished last in the MAC in total defense last year in a 1-11 campaign.

The Eastern defense runs from a standard 4-3 set. Because of a lack of size, coordinator Jay Peterson tries to disguise his coverage packages and he makes liberal use of safety and corner blitzes. Peterson came to EMU along with Gednyk and Feggins from the Northwestern staff. Peterson played collegiately at Miami (Ohio) and was on the staff with Walker at Miami and then at Northwestern.

Buffalo took advantage of Eastern's lack of size up front in game one. The Bulls rushed for 224 net yards on 48 attempts, a healthy 4.7 yards per pop. The undersized EMU defensive line offered little resistance. Tackles Matt Kudu and Eric Pettway, both returning starters from last year, go 272 and 262 respectively. The defensive ends (Oliver Gagnon-Gordillo and Matt Lisek) go 240 and 251.

Middle linebacker Kevin Harrison (6-0, 246) and weakside linebacker Keyvon Barbee (5-9, 210) are the best tacklers. Harrison had 15 tackles against Buffalo while Barbee had three tackles for loss among his nine stops. The strong side linebacker is Steven Bednarik, who picked off one Buffalo pass.

The secondary turned in a good game against Buffalo, limiting the Bulls to 176 passing yards on 18 completions in 46 attempts.

In the secondary, one of the corners will be Chris Roberson, who gained 755 yards rushing as a tailback two years ago, then caught 34 passes as a wide receiver last year. Roberson had eight tackles and broke up three passes in his first game on the defensive side of the ball. Strong safety Rontrell Woodruff (5-10, 201) is the best hitter among the safeties and a sure tackler who had 10 stops against Buffalo. Free safety Jerry Gaines returned a Buffalo fumble 82 yards for a touchdown and corner Steven Lewis had a pass interception.

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