If Saturday's loss at Ball State is any indication, Tyler Jones has the necessary wits in order to take over the starting role. His performance against the Cardinals should remind Spartan fans of their own quarterback, Drew Stanton.
Jones netted 310 yards of total offense, with 164 of that production coming on the ground in the form of 22 carries. He was also 11 for 16, with 146 yards passing and a touchdown.
The ability for Jones to improvise on the run allowed Jeff Genyk's Eagles to move the football on Brady Hoke's team, amassing 435 yards of total offense.
While the running game was virtually nonexistent outside of Jones' gallops, it will have to put forth a better performance against MSU this weekend. When Idaho succeeded on offense against the Spartans last week, it did so because of a solid rushing attack aided by the courageous efforts of Jayson Bird, playing in his first game since breaking his collarbone last September.
Eastern will try to move the ball on offense by getting Jones out of the pocket. Once on the run, Jones can choose whether to move the ball up field by his lonesome, or look for talented receiver Eric Deslauriers. The senior standout is on pace to break the school's career record for receiving yards of 2,838 set by Kevin Walter.
Deslauriers had ten receptions for 127 yards against Ball State last week, catching a 20-yard touchdown from Jones in the fourth quarter. Bur if Michigan State can single in on slowing down Jones initially, it will render the rest of the Eagle offense virtually ineffective.
Eastern managed to control the clock against the Cardinals, 30:21 to 29:39, but that statistic was more indicative of the Eagles' inability to stop the big play.
The Cardinals averaged 6.1 per offensive play on the afternoon, with five of those going for 20 yards or more. With Michigan State's quick-strike ability, and EMU's apparent reluctance to reach out and touch someone, the Spartans should have a field day with the receiving corps going in every which direction.
On defense for the Eagles, the long pass plays will have to be minimized, but with the losses of their leading tackler of a year ago, SS Rontrell Woodruff, as well as FS Corey Parker, that becomes gruesomely problematic for the defensive backfield. The Eagles were torched by Ball State last week, a team that was barely able to average 300 yards of total offense last season.
Not being able to stop a Cardinals' outfit from leaving skid marks all over the field last week was one thing; contending with one of the top offenses in the entire nation in Michigan State is quite another. Julius Brown and Michael Richardson man the corners for Eastern, while Chris May and Jacob Wyatt get the safety starts.
Putting pressure on Stanton would go a long way into assisting their brothers in the secondary. Senior DE Kevin Howe, ranking second in the conference last season with 10 ½ sacks, anchors an experienced line.
They'll have to create some havoc up front to manufacture any sort of distraction to the rhythmic flow the Spartan offense can easily get into.