Saturday, Sept. 25
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN
Ohio Stadium; Columbus
Riding a 15-game losing streak coming into Columbus, Eastern Michigan is far from a traditional power.
The Eagles have not posted a winning season since Rick Rasnick directed the team to a 6-5 record in 1995, and the Eagles are 41-122 (.252 winning percentage) since then. The team's only bowl contest was a 30-27 win against San Jose State in the California Bowl to conclude the 1987 season, a year in which Jim Harkema's squad won 10 games and captured the Mid-American Conference title for the only time in program history.
The Eagles will venture to Columbus in the midst of a 15-game losing streak, a run that began with the hiring of head coach and former Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English. English replaced Jeff Genyk at the end of the 2008 season, and Genyk won his last game in command.
But while English's first squad in 2009 truly struggled – it lost seven games by 20 or more points – this one appears to have a pulse. The Eagles gave up a late touchdown to lose their opener, 31-27, to visiting Army, and then led at Miami (Ohio) in the second half before the RedHawks rallied to earn a 28-21 victory.
However, the team's latest contest had English worried that the team was starting to lose hope. Defending Mid-American Conference champion Central Michigan came into Ypsilanti and win by a score of 52-14. Nonetheless, English thinks he has the program moving in the right direction.
"If you look at last year, we weren't even competitive in a lot of the games," he said. "It's a different feeling here, and we just have to keep pressing and keep exposing the kids to the idea of how you win games. We're getting close and we're getting better, and we're going to keep fighting. But I feel good about where the program is headed. I really do."
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel agreed.
"As I looked at their games from a year ago, the majority of them were decisive losses," he said. "If you look at the first three games this year, fairly tight ball game with Army, ahead of Miami in the fourth quarter, took a half step back when they lost a three-touchdown or four-touchdown game to Central Michigan, but you can see some progress from year one to year two..
"I'm sure Coach English can see a lot of progress simply on the practice field and understanding of his guys, so he's going to bring a team over here that's better than we've ever seen, and to me that's real."
Head coach: Ron English, second year, 0-15
2009 record: 0-12 (0-8, 6th Mid-American Conference West)
Series mark: First meeting
School location: Ypsilanti, Mich.
Colors: Green and White
Stadium: Rynearson Stadium
Fight song: "Eastern Eagles Fight Song"
Eastern Michigan Players To Watch
RB Dwayne Priest: A second-year starter, Priest teamed with quarterback Alex Gillett in the opener against Army to give the Eagles a pair of 100-yard rushers for the first time since 2005. He also rushed for 127 yards a season ago as the Eagles nearly upset Northwestern, so the senior won't be intimidated by facing a Big Ten defense.
E Ben Thayer: Projected as an All-MAC candidate before the year by prognosticator Phil Steele, Thayer leads the Eagles with 10 catches and has a touchdown grab. A year ago, the senior was consistent, grabbing passes in each of the first 11 games, and he was named the team's top scholar-athlete.
DE Javon Reese: A second-year starter, the junior has affected the quarterback through three games, making 3½ sacks of Eastern Michigan's five and forcing a fumble. Reese is from an athletic family, as seven of his 12 siblings played collegiate athletics including brother Terry (who ran track at Wisconsin in the 1990s) and sister Vnemina (who played basketball at Michigan State from 1998-2002).
P Jay Karutz: Karutz will likely see a lot of action against the Buckeyes, who recruited him, and the Australian looks like he might be one of the best and most consistent punters in the nation. Already named the MAC West special teamer of the week after averaging 49.5 yards per kick Sept. 11 at Miami (Ohio), Karutz has Eastern Michigan ranked sixth in the nation in net punting.
Sept. 4, Army, L 31-27
Sept. 11, at Miami (Ohio), L 28-21
Sept. 18, Central Michigan, L 52-14
QB 8 Alex Gillett, 6-1, 205
RB 22 Dwayne Priest, 5-8, 192
X WR 9 Tyrone Burke, 5-11, 199
Z WR 1 Kinsman Thomas, 6-2, 205
H WR 84 Trey Hunter, 6-0, 196
TE 81 Ben Thayer, 6-4, 240
LT 76 Bridger Buche, 6-3½, 312
LG 72 Andrew Sorgatz, 6-5, 266
C 78 Eric Davis, 6-2, 300
RG 70 Corey Watman, 6-1½, 290
RT 65 Dan DeMaster, 6-5, 304
DE 43 Devon Davis, 6-2, 215
DT 94 Jabar Westerman, 6-2, 292
DT 96 Brandon Slater, 6-2½, 291
DE 90 Javon Reese, 6-1½, 247
WLB 40 Neal Howey, 6-1, 230
MLB 35 Colin Weingrad, 6-0, 230
SLB 57 Tim Fort, 6-0, 225
LCB 19 Arrington Hicks, 5-9, 170
RCB 31 Marcell Rose, 5-9, 185
FS 14 Brandon Pratt, 6-2, 193
SS 33 Alex Bellfy, 6-0½, 200
K 97 Sean Graham, 6-1 185
P 37 Jay Karutz, 6-2, 200
KR 26 Corey Welch, 5-0, 179/14 Brandon Pratt, 6-2, 193
PR 10 Ryan Downard, 6-0½, 198
Five Fast Facts:
1. Eastern Michigan is yet to attempt a field goal this year. Kicker Sean Graham is a Florida State transfer.
2. EMU is 4-1 against Jim Tressel all-time, with the team – then known as the Hurons – earning that record between 1986-90.
3. Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith spent 10 years in EMU's athletic department from 1983-93, spending the final eight years as athletic director.
4. EMU is in its 118th year of football. The first Eagles team went 0-2.
5. Eastern Michigan's Ypsilanti campus is seven miles from that of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Offensive Personnel Report
Three games into the 2010 season, it's clear that the Eagles have had trouble holding on to the football.
Eastern Michigan has committed eight turnovers – four interceptions and four lost fumbles – this far, a bad combination considering the Eagles are trekking to play the team with the best turnover margin in the country in Ohio State.
"Our problem right now is we're turning the ball over," head coach Ron English said. "We just can't win if we're minus-2 (in turnover margin)."
On the whole, EMU is sixth in the MAC with 332.0 yards per game and seventh with 20.7 points per game. The Eagles boast a three-wide, spread offense that takes advantage of quarterback runs and the talents of senior running back Dwayne Priest.
"I think they want to run the ball," OSU safeties coach Paul Haynes said. "They want to run and hit you with play-action. They're motioning all over and (using) misdirection so we have to have great eye control."
So far, quarterback Alex Gillett has started all three games. Last year, Gillett completed 68 of 137 passes (49.6 percent) for 763 yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions in nine games (three starts).
This year, the Green Springs, Ohio, native is 34 for 59 (57.6 percent) for 350 yards, four touchdowns and three picks. A talented rusher who had 484 yards last year, Gillett is second on the team with 39 rushes for 172 yards and a TD.
He's spelled by redshirt freshman Devontae Payne, a product of Cleveland South who Ohio State looked at in the class of 2009. The 6-6½, 231-pounder has played in two games, going 14 of 27 for 148 yards and an interception.
The running game revolves around the rushing skills of Priest, who is in his second year as a starter after entering Eastern Michigan from Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.
A season ago, the senior had 633 yards – including a season-high 127 vs. Northwestern – and seven touchdowns. This season, Priest started off with a 142-yard performance against Army that earned him MAC West offensive player of the week honors, and for the season he has 50 rushes for 199 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior Corey Welch (5-9, 179), Priest's backup, is an Akron native with 11 rushes for 24 yards.
The Eagles have shuttled five wide receivers into the lineup so far, with senior Josh LeDuc (6-3, 220) leading the way. After missing last year with an injury, LeDuc has nine catches for 58 yards and a TD this year, and he's also thrown for a 71-yard score after taking a pitch from Gillett.
That score went to sophomore Kinsman Thomas, the Eagles' biggest deep threat. He averaged 18.3 yards per catch last season and has six catches for 197 yards (32.8 yards) and two touchdowns in 2010.
Senior Tyrone Burke and junior Trey Hunter have started all three games as well. Burke has seven grabs for 56 yards, while Hunter hails from Pemberville, Ohio, and has six caches for 43 yards. True freshman Donald Scott (6-0, 175) also has three catches for 72 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown vs. Central Michigan, while rushing four times as well.
Eastern Michigan also boasts a pass-catching tight end in Ben Thayer, a senior who has a team-best 10 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Kyle DeMaster (6-1, 233) and part-time offensive lineman Brian Moore (6-5, 305) also see time.
The Eagles have a veteran offensive line, though they have been kept below 100 yards rushing in each of the past two contests.
The experience starts in the middle with center Eric Davis, a senior who is set to make career start No. 30 in Ohio Stadium. Senior right tackle Dan DeMaster, the brother of tight end Kyle, is almost there with 26 career starts.
EMU also welcomed back junior Bridger Buche, who started every game at right tackle in 2008, back at the left tackle spot this year after he missed '09 with a hip injury. Two sophomores also have starting assignments in left guard Andrew Sorgatz and right guard Corey Watman.
Defensive Personnel Report
English had complete turnover on his defensive staff after the 2009 season, hiring new coaches at every position and hiring coordinator Phil Snow, who had been the linebackers coach for the Detroit Lions.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, the new coaches have not been able to the team's run defense. A year after placing dead last in Division I-AA with 276.8 yards allowed per game, EMU is 117th this year with an average of 253.0 given up.
Eastern Michigan has already started eight different players along the line with little success. The only player to get the opening nod in all three games is a returning starter in defensive end Javon Reese, a junior with 10 tackles, including a team-high 3½ sacks, and a forced fumble.
It appears the starter on the other side is sophomore Devon Davis, who has started the last two games and has seven stops with a tackle for loss. The other ends are junior Brad Ohrman (6-4, 270), who has five tackles, and redshirt freshman Kalonji Kashama, a 6-4, 250-pounder who has six tackles, including a half sack.
In the middle, the line is anchored by junior Brandon Slater, who has 10 tackles. The team elevated senior Ryan Leonard up to a starting role against CMU, and he has eight tackles and a sack this year.
Eastern Michigan also has junior Jabar Westerman, a 6-2, 292-pounder who missed the second week but came back to recover fumble vs. the Chippewas. He has two tackles on the year as well. The Eagles lost third-team All-MAC linebacker Andre Hatchett, but weakside linebacker Neal Howey and strongside starter Tim Fort provide senior leadership at the position. Howey leads the team so far with 34 tackles to go with two TFL and a forced fumble, while Fort has 29 tackles and a forced fumble.
Junior Marcus English (6-1, 228) shared a starting job with Fort a season ago and then started the first two games in the middle while posting seven tackles, but the Trotwood (Ohio) Madison product was out for the last game against Central Michigan. He was replaced by true freshman Colin Weingrad, who has eight tackles and an interception this year.
Backup strongside linebacker Matt Boyd (6-0, 232) has eight tackles as well during his sophomore campaign.
Eastern Michigan has allowed only 161.0 yards per game through the air, second best in the MAC, but that's a byproduct of playing Army and having such a struggling rush defense. The team's pass efficiency defense mark is 12th in the league.
They do have a team leader at free safety, though, in senior Latarrius Thomas, who started his career at Louisville – where English recruited him when he was a coach there – before transferring to EMU.
In his first and only year with the Eagles, Thomas has 18 tackles. He missed the game against Central Michigan, giving senior Brandon Pratt a start, and Pratt made five tackles while forcing a fumble.
The Eagles hoped to have junior Martavius Cardwell, who made 105 stops last year, beside him as a starting safety, but Cardwell has missed all three games with injury. With him out, the strong safety job has been split between senior Ryan Downard (6-0½, 198) and sophomore Alex Bellfy, with Downard making 11 tackles and Bellfy six.
The two cornerbacks have stayed consistent through two games. Sophomore Marcell Rose, a sophomore, has 18 tackles to tie for third on the team. On the other side the Eagles start senior Arrington Hicks, a three-year letter winner from Lima (Ohio) Shawnee who has 11 stops.