Eastern Michigan won its first game against a Power 5 team when it traveled to New Jersey and beat Rutgers 16-13. It plays in the Mid-American Conference or the MAC. The Eagle’s turnaround has been led by head coach Chris Creighton who has a 12-28 record at the school but a career total of 151-74 as a head coach. Creighton, a technically sound defense, and 5th year starting quarterback Brogan Roback have led the Eagles to a renewed sense of expectation after it finished 2016 with a 7-6 record and a trip to the Popeye’s Bahama’s Bowl. Its last venture into postseason play was in 1987.
2017 Schedule Prior to Kentucky
|At Charlotte||W, 24-7|
|At Rutgers||W, 16-13|
|Ohio||L, 20-27 (2 OT)|
This won’t be a popular statement. But, through film evaluation, considering his surrounding cast over the course of four seasons, the putrid state of the EMU program early in his career, a profound understanding of the offense, arm talent, football IQ, and experience, Brogan Roback is the most threatening and potentially the best signal caller that UK will have faced through its first five games. Roback has thrown for 6,561 career yards, 40 touchdowns and is frequently referred to as a sleeper pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He averages 38 pass-attempts per game.
EMU will take multiple downfield, deep shots relying upon QB/WR familiarity with tendencies to favor the back-shoulder-fade. I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t the Eagle’s first play call on Saturday. When referencing a high number of go-routes, I mean like 15-plus. Sergio Bailey II is its top outside receiver and has twelve receptions of 10+yards and six that went for more than 20.
Operating out of a Pistol formation, the Eagle’s offense is varied. It can spread the field and operate with tempo while relying upon the passing attack. Or, much like Florida; it can align in bunch/overload formations when intentions are to run the football. EMU lost three offensive line starters but return eight as an offense. Shaq Vann is the feature running back and has 49 carries for 186-yards in three games. Familiarity and continuity within the system are obvious as its primary contributors consists of nine upperclassmen that have played a great deal of football together.
|Quarterback||Brogan Roback||6’3, 218 Sr.|
|Running Back||Shaq Vann||5’10, 220 Jr.|
|X Receiver||Johnnie Niupalau||6’0, 215 Sr.|
|Z Receiver||Serio Bailey II||6’0, 190 Sr.|
|H Receiver||Antoine Porter||5’8, 180 Sr.|
|Y Tight End||Bryce Kemp||6’5, 235 So.|
|Left Tackle||Chris Bukoski||6’5, 295 Jr.|
|Left Guard||Jeremy Hickey||6’4, 310 Jr.|
|Center||Dakota Tallman||6’5, 310 Jr.|
|Right Guard||Jimmy Leatiota||6’3, 295 Jr.|
|Right Tackle||Steve Nielson||6’8, 320 So.|
|Fullback||Lavonte Robinson||5’8, 245 Sr.|
|Scoring||20 points per game|
|Rushing||95 yards per game|
|3rd Down||16/50, 32%|
|Red-Zone||18/22, 82% (8/22 TD’s)|
|Time of Possession||30:35|
|Receiving||Sergio Bailey II||17 rec, 267-yds, 1 TD|
|Rushing||Shaq Vann||49 carries, 186-yds|
|Passing||Brogan Roback||69/114, 798-yds, 2 TD, 2 INT’s 60.5%|
Eastern Michigan leads the MAC and ranks 19th nationally by allowing just 15.7 points-per-game. “Multiple” schematically, it mainly operates out of a four-man front and does not rely upon pre-snap movement or exotic fronts/coverages like former opponents Southern Miss or Florida. What you see is normally what you get. For the Kentucky offensive line this means that Saturday will be a man-on-man fracas which could be just what it needs. It also is a heavy zone-coverage team.
The Eagles are led by safety turned linebacker Jason Beck who has started 37 games and accumulated 286 career stops. He’s active and joined by the “Dog” Brody Hoying who is the reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Week. Hoying’s position is similar to Mike Edwards as he aligns all over the field and provides EMU with a multitude of options that best utilize his varied talent set. The “Bull” position or defensive end Jeremiah Harris provides pass pressure from the edge.
Eastern Michigan heavily leans on technique and execution within its system for defensive success. It’s a highly effective tackling team and rarely differs from assignment. “Sound” is the word can be used to describe this defense’s structure. However, it can produce havoc in the opposing backfield from its organic front-four defensive linemen and an occasional blitz from a linebacker or the aforementioned Hoying. It accumulated four QB sacks and seven tackles for loss in an overtime loss to Ohio a week ago. The Eagles have accumulated five interceptions and forced three fumbles while allowing just two touchdowns in regulation in 2017.
|Defensive Tackle||Dion Dawson||6’0, 320 Sr.|
|Nose Tackle||Oddie Granger III||6’3, 315 Sr.|
|Defensive End||Maxx Crosby||6’5, 265 So.|
|Bull (LB/DE)||Jeremiah Harris||6’5, 255 Jr.|
|Mike Linebacker||Ike Spearman||6’0, 233 Sr.|
|Will Linebacker||Jason Beck||6’1, 220 Sr.|
|Field Cornerback||Ross Williams||5’11, 175 Jr.|
|Boundary Cornerback||Kevin McGill||6’2, 195 So.|
|Dog||Brody Hoying||5’11, 205 So.|
|Free Safety||Justin Moody||5’10, 185 Jr.|
|Rover||Vince Calhoun||5’11, 185 So.|
|Scoring||Allowing 15.7 points per game|
|3rd Down||18/52, 35%|
|QB Sacks||Luke MacLean-2|
|Tackles for Loss||Jeremiah Harris-3.5|
|Forced Fumbles||Brody Hoying-2|
Eastern Michigan is ordinary in this phase. However, QB Brody Roback averages 44 yards per punt as he takes on the punter role while aligned at quarterback. This all but ensures a no-return scenario.
|Punter||Ivan Oraha||35.7 yards per kick|
|Kicker||Paulie Fricano||6/7 FG’s|
|Kick Returner||Mathew Sexton||17 yards per return|
|Punt Returner||Blake Banham||6.2|
|QB/Punts||Brody Roback||44 yards per/7 quick kicks|
What does all this mean?
Kentucky is the better and more talented team. UK should win the game. But, EMU will certainly make Cats earn it. Eastern Michigan is a well-coached, disciplined program that lacks defensive pizazz but excels in assignment and fundamental tackling. Thus; its ranked 19th in the nation by allowing just 15 points-per-game.
Two factors are concerning. One; QB Brogan Roback is an accomplished and skilled veteran player that will take multiple downfield shots. He also possesses a quick release which could limit UK’s pass rush and lead to a high number of completions. He’s also joined by fellow offensive players that are extremely familiar with each other and the system. Roback can frequently be seen changing plays, altering protection, and pre-snap directing his teammates which is an obvious sign of experience and grasp of the system.
Secondly; Mark Stoops’ team cannot lose to Florida twice. EMU is a good enough to pull off the upset if the Cats mope and linger from its Florida woes. Some may call this a Trap Game. I’d describe it as a signature contest that will define Kentucky’s character and fortitude as it deals with tremendous disappointment from a demoralizing loss.