For EMU, the spread is dead

While the spread offense continues to spread around the college football landscape, Eastern Michingan, Northwestern's opponent on Saturday, is bucking the trend. Under first-year coach Ron English -- a former D-coordinator -- the Eagles are shelving the en vogue offense and will instead try to travel by ground this season.

The spread offense is all the rage in college football these days. Teams that were formerly conservative have flirted with (Auburn) or fully embraced (Oklahoma, Michigan) the spread. And teams that have been running the spread for years, like Texas Tech, Hawaii, etc., have made more noise as of late than ever before.

To add to the ever-growing list of word plays, the spread is spreading.

But Eastern Michigan, Northwestern's opponent on Saturday, is moving in the opposite direction. Having run the spread for years under former head coach Jeff Genyk, who was an assistant at NU from 1994-2003 and took the spread to Ypsilanti, the Eagles have gone conservative. First-year coach Ron English cut his teeth on the defensive side of the ball with Michigan and Louisville, and the former D-coordinator made an executive decision to drop the spread and install a pro-style attack.

So while the spread is seemingly ubiquitous -- including in Evanston -- English and Co. have decided to temper all that passing, which defined the Eagles' offense in recent years.

"In any system, we have to pay better attention to detail," English said in August. "The teams that play with great detail and great passion and toughness are the teams that win.

"We have to do what we believe in (offensively) and what think is best for us. As we continue to do that, we'll recruit to that system and put the players in the best position to be success."

To backtrack a moment...In 2008, EMU set one of the quintessential spread offense records: Pass completions in a game. Against Central Michigan, QB Andy Schmitt was 58-of-80 for 516 yards and 5 touchdowns. Wow. Those are columns where you don't often see the number "5". (Oh, and EMU won that Central Michigan game, 56-52, joining Georgia, Purdue and Ball State as the only teams to beat CMU in the regular season.)

Schmitt, now a senior, missed a few games last season because of injury, which deflated his season stats. But a peek at the game log will give you an idea of the type of offense the Eagles ran. In the final four games of the season, EMU passed it 49, 35, 76 and 80 times, respectively -- or an average of 60 attempts per game.

And despite the limited playing time, Schmitt still threw for 2,644 yards and 15 TDs in 2008. He had nearly 5,500 career passing yards entering '09.

So yeah, EMU has a history with the pass-happy spread. But judging by its first game, the spread's obituary in Ypsilanti has already been written.

Purple Reign understands that one game is a tiny sample size, but still, the numbers from the Eagles' Week 1 game against Army tell a story.

The first three plays of the game were runs -- resulting in a three-and-out. And despite the lack of success, the running trend continued.

The first eight plays of the second quarter were runs, even though the Eagles were trailing virtually from the outset. Then, coming out of the locker room for the second half, EMU ran it seven straight times.

EMU quarterback Andy Schmitt ended the day with 31 pass attempts, but that stat lies: 15 of those tosses came in the final period -- when the Eagles were in all-out comeback mode, trailing by 14.

In the end, Schmitt had just 183 yards passing. And, possibly because he is so unaccustomed to being under center, he was sacked seven times for -53 yards. Yikes.

So look for English's Eagles to pound the ball on the ground this Saturday. And, judging by the Eagles' history -- 15-43 since the start of 2004; zero winning seasons since Clinton was in office -- look for NU to roll.

That is, as long as the Cats can stop the run.

To reach David Vranicar, publisher of Purple Reign, please write to northwestern.scout@gmail.com.


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