Eagles Land in Glass Bowl Friday Night

The final home game of the 2009 football season is just two days away. The Toledo Rockets will host the Eastern Michigan Eagles on senior night at the Glass Bowl. Tom Mauter weighs in on the game, providing a preview of Eastern Michigan, along with his usual predictions for the game.

The easy part for Head Coach Ron English and two of his new assistant coaches (tight ends/special teams coach Tim Burpee and the running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley) has been finding their way around Ypsilanti as they all spent time across US 23 coaching/playing at U of M.

Navigating the Eagles 2009 schedule has been anything but easy. Losing both star QB Andy Schmitt to a knee injury against Michigan and starting CB Ryan Downard to a broken arm in practice were major losses.

In his head coaching debut, English witnessed the Eagles inability to stop the running game as the Black Knights of Army racked up more than 300 yards on the ground.

Credit the Eagles with putting us a fight against Big Ten foe Northwestern losing 27-24 on a field goal with 11 seconds left in the game.

The only other game that was close was against Ball State. The Eagles actually led for most of the game only to see a 27-22 lead vanish at the end of the third quarter, losing to BSU 29-27.


On the Defense

At first glance one might be impressed with the Eagles (0-10, 0-6) being ranked number 4 in pass defense in the nation, allowing only 156.2 yards per game in the air. One of the main reasons is the play of DBs Chris Mays (5'10", 195#) and Johnny Sears (6'0", 184#). Mays leads the MAC and is 6th in the nation with 5 INTs to go with his 5 pass deflections. Sears leads the Eagles with seven each of pass breakups and deflections.

However, when you factor in the Eagles' rushing defense, the picture changes – big time. EMU ranks next to last (119th) in stopping the run giving up almost 280 yards per game. Collectively, this ranks the EMU defense 107th in the nation, two notches below the Rockets.

Standout EMU line backer Andre Hatchett (5'11", 221#) is tied for 16th in the nation with 100 tackles just a bit behind Rocket LB Archie Donald.

Along the defensive line, DE Brandon Downs (6'1", 246#) is the most active Eagle. Downs leads the team in TFL with 9.5, sacks with 6.5 and 8 QB hurries.


On Offense

The offense compliments the EMU defense statistically - the Eagles rank 117th in the nation. By comparison, the Rockets are ranked 22nd. EMU has 11 TDs via the rush and 7 by the way of the pass.

The Eagles ground game accounts for nearly 127 yards per game. The air attack is only a bit more productive gaining just over 148 yards passing. Turnovers have been a continuing nightmare for Coach English. Additionally, the offensive line has allowed 23 sacks.

True freshman QB Alex Gillett (6'1", 185#), from Clyde, OH, runs more than he completes passes and in some games more than pass attempts. He's averaging 5.1 yards per pass completion and 5.0 yards per rush. In fact, Gillett is the team's second leading rusher with 304 yards/5.0 ypr behind RB Dwayne Priest (5'9", 190#) 597 yards/4.0 ypr.

Gillett will be making only his second career start this Friday. Following Schmitt's injury, English initially went with Kyle McMahon at QB, platooning Gillett. When McMahon was unable to lead the offense effectively, English made the freshman his starting QB.

In his only start against WMU, Gillett ran for 132 yards on 26 rushes and threw for 186 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs. He fumbled twice losing both and was sacked four times. The Broncos defense applied pressure all game long.

The Eagle receiving corps is led by WR Jacory Stone (6'0", 200#) who is another in a long list of outstanding players from Cleveland's Glenville HS. Coming off an outstanding junior season, Stone was on the pre-season Biletnikoff watch list. He has 30 receptions for 332 yards. TE Ben Thayer (6'4", 228#) has 26 grabs and 2 TDs. Three other wide receivers have combined for 35 catches and 3 TDs.


Special Teams

The standout player on special teams is punter Zach Johnson. Johnson leads the MAC averaging 41 yards per punt, with seven punts of 50 yards or more to his credit.

DeAnthony White has taken over both kick-off (21.1 ypr) and punt (9.3 ypr) return duties.

Joe Carithers handles both kick-offs (to about the 10 yard line) and field goals (10 of 16 and 50% from 30 yards out or more).


What to Look For:

• Dwayne Priest to rush for 100 yards or close to it with most of it in the first half

• Alex Gillett to run and pass nearly equal times

• Rockets will get more than two sacks

• Rockets will have at least one INT as will the Eagles

• Rockets running game to gain more than 175 yards on the ground – in the first three quarters

• Alex Gillett to look for Big Ben Thayer in the red zone

Eric Page to have a punt return of 15 yards or more and a kick-off return of 40+ yards before "a block in the back" penalty is called

• Turnovers - more by the Eagles than the Rockets

• Rockets to once again lose more penalty yardage than the opposition - some things don't seem to change

Barry Church to spy on Alex Gillett


Summary

This is a must win for the Rockets if they want this season to be, by any measure, an improvement over last year. Forget the current line of 17 to 19 points favoring the Rockets; the Eagles should make this a game, particularly if Coach Beckman doesn't use #8 as a spy.

Following the Eagles last loss to WMU, Coach English had an interesting quote: "We have a trust issue. They (the players) didn't do what they were asked to do." If EMU has success early on against the Rockets in the first half, that trust issue may disappear.

The Rockets must have command of the game and the lead going into the fourth quarter, or the Glass Bowl occupants may be severely disappointed.

This is the last home game for 19 seniors who deserve a good send off. While the W-L record may not be as we would like, there is not a question about this group's integrity and character. With temps in the 40s and a few clouds overhead, it will be good weather to send the senior class out in style.

What say, we make it a reality crowd of 20K+?



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