Each week we scout Michigan's opponent. We'll start with the basics, and then explore some relevant match-ups. For those that want to know more, we'll sprinkle in a mixture of history, reflection, and philosophy for a comprehensive look.
EMU (0-2) at Michigan (2-0) ‘09
Series: Michigan leads 8-0
Eagles to Watch
QB Andy Schmitt (Sr. #7) 3rd in career passing yards at EMU (5,770)
A former Wolverine Defensive Coordinator has put an odd twist on an age old axiom…
"If you can beat ‘em, join ‘em…and make them better."
That's exactly what Ron English has done in two short years. As a DC at Michigan, English scouted Eastern Michigan and came up with a game plan to beat the Eagles 33-22 in 2007. At the end of the year, Michigan Head Coach Lloyd Carr retired and English found a job as a DC in Louisville.
The Cardinals significantly improved on Defense in '08. Their rush defense improved 35 spots and their overall defense improved by nearly 50 per game. When English was hired by EMU at the end of the season, there were many fans sorry to see him go, but not surprised.
English takes over a program that hasn't had a winning season since 1995 and hasn't won a MAC title since 1987. It's a program that suffers from a lack of fan support and from a lack of visibility not helped by the fact that Michigan Stadium is just seven miles away. Now that the new suites are up, it may be possible that the crowd noise from last week's Michigan game with Notre Dame reverberated off the walls at Rynearson Stadium…ok maybe that's an exaggeration.
With the coaching change comes a different coaching philosophy on offense. The spread is gone as Jeff Genyk's version adopted from his time at Northwestern is converted to a pro-style offense familiar to Michigan fans prior to Rich Rodriguez.
It's a humbling learning experience for QB Andy Schmitt. The spread had been kind to Schmitt and his numbers. In the last two games of '08, Schmitt passed for exactly 1,000 yards and eight touchdown passes. This year, it's been a bit different, 331 yards and two touchdown passes. Let's not forget four picks.
Breaking down Eastern and Northwestern
Surely, most of you are aware that Eastern Michigan nearly won their game at Northwestern last week. The Wildcats kicked a 49 yd FG with 11 seconds left to sink the hearts of Eagles fans that probably weren't aware that it could have been their first win over a Big 10 team in 25 games. It's important to see how this game unfolded.
Offensively, the Eagles threw a number of passes in the back field in space as well as quick outs and what former Wolverine TE turned broadcaster Mark Campbell called ‘speed outs'. The Wildcats defense gave enough space to allow these short passes to turn into first downs. By the time the Eagles came close to FG range, the Wildcats played tighter. Eastern's first two possessions ended with a partially blocked 48 yd field goal and a punt just a few yards short of a FG attempt.
On Northwestern's first two drives, they scored touchdowns; the 2nd one was a drive that went 99 yards. By the third EMU drive, Northwestern's defense wouldn't allow EMU to execute the same plays it did on its first two drives and it was a 3 & out. The fourth EMU drive ended with an interception that was returned for a Northwestern. It's 21-0, Wildcats and it appeared easy.
Eastern gets on the board late in the 2nd quarter when the Wildcats fumble deep in their own territory at the 12 yard line. The Eagles can't punch it in but get a FG and trail 21-3 at Halftime.
In the 2nd half, Northwestern had just four possessions. They moved down the field and punted. Then they moved down the field and settled for a FG. On the third possession they went down the field and threw an interception in the red zone. Finally, on the fourth possession they went down the field and kicked the game winning field goal.
The Eagles, to their credit also had only four workable possessions in the 2nd half and got three touchdowns. They can thank the Wildcats for two of them. Eastern drove down the field for its first touchdown on the day but would have had to punt if it weren't for a Northwestern unsportsmanlike penalty. The 2nd touchdown came after a Wildcat Special Teams fumble from an EMU punt giving the Eagles a short field at the Wildcat 35 yard line. Their third score was hard earned. There was a mixture of good runs from Dwayne Priest and a long pass from Schmitt to Corey Welch (#9). Terrin Blevens (#3) punched it in from 3 yards out to tie the game at a time where Eastern knew it may be now or never.
When asked about concerns from Eastern Michigan, Rodriguez offered that the close loss wouldn't have a devastating effect on them as it could for other teams. It would likely be the opposite.
"Well, sometimes even when you lose a game, like they lost a tough one at Northwestern on the road, they're going to get a little more confidence. And I think they will because of that. They're going to have a little more confidence."
After watching the game, Eastern is not a serious threat like Notre Dame. The Eagles offense isn't explosive. They were 2-10 on 3rd down, and there was only one possession when Northwestern didn't move the ball on Eastern's defense. However, it does serve as a reminder that when Michigan drives down the field it needs to get six and not three. If the Wolverines drive down the field, don't turn it over. Don't make Special Teams gaffs and don't assist keeping the Eagles drives alive with penalties that otherwise would result in punts. All were faults of the Wildcats game that in its entirety nearly cost them the game. The Eagles game with Northwestern last week is reminiscent of Michigan's loss to Minnesota in ‘05 at home and the wins versus Ball State in '06, Utah in 2002, at IU in '99 and at Minnesota in 98. It was performances where Michigan appeared to be in control only to have the game come in doubt late.
Eagles May Have a Bright Future
One shouldn't mistake the fortunes of this team this season, to what can happen in the future. It's tough to be successful at Eastern Michigan, but they may have the right guy in Ron English to carry this team further. He is respected and liked in the football community. Need some examples? Let's start with former Wolverine and current Eagle, Johnny Sears. Sears, from California, went back home after two years with the Wolverines in 2007. He ran track at the College of Sequoias back in California and appeared to put football behind him until he got a call from English and is now a starting CB for EMU even though he would have only one year of eligibility.
Take Michigan starting safety Troy Woolfolk. He cited English as a big reason why he came to U-M. On Monday, Woolfolk mentioned it would be "weird" to go against him Saturday. English appeared to always have Woolfolk's attention while at Michigan.
"He was very intense. I've been screamed at by a lot of coaches, but he was one coach that would scream at you and you would really fear him at the end of the day, so you wanted to do well. He was a good coach and I respect him."
While English has never screamed at me, I found myself acting differently around him. On a few occasions I've had a chance to talk to him one-on-one. For some reason I was always checking my posture, making sure my questions were thought-provoking, and I was continuously eyeballing him whether I was speaking or listening. Perhaps it's because he commands this attention. If he has that same effect with his players, then he will undoubtedly get the best out of them.
English also has the support of four assistant coaches that were linked with Michigan as coaches or players including Running Backs Coach Tyrone Wheatley. In addition there's a football community that is happy to see him back and embracing his return albeit for the Green and White of the Eagles.
ENJOY THE GAME!