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WILL UB FOOTBALL SOAR ABOVE THE EAGLES, OR GET STAMPED IN THE FACTORY?
That's not a riddle, by the way.
Image from ubbulls.com
This is the second straight week the University at Buffalo football team gets to play on a novelty playing surface. After the Coastal Carolina “Surf Turf” of Brooks Stadium, the Bulls (0-3) now get to roam on the gray shop floor at Rynearson Stadium, also known as “The Factory.” Because it’s Michigan.
Image from emueagles.com
Here’s what Buffalo’s dealing with coming into this weekend:
Meanwhile, Eastern Michigan (2-1), which opens MAC play at home against Buffalo (0-3) this week, will continue scheduling big-name (and big-bodied) opponents for nonconference play. There's Minnesota in 2023, Washington in 2024, Kentucky in 2025 — and, yes, Michigan State in 2026.
(Athletic Director Scott) Wetherbee is having discussions about a 2027 buy game, though he acknowledged it's getting a bit tricky, given Eastern Michigan's continuously improving competitiveness in such games.
"It does make it a little harder," said Wetherbee, whose football team was named the national team of the week by the Football Writers Association of America. "Where before, they used to call us all the time.
"It's a little different."
Yes, that’s right, Eastern Michigan is the current star of the Group of Five show, fresh off a dominating win over 20.5-point favorites Arizona State that climaxed in the firing of Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards (possibly on the field!).
Running back Samson Evans went for 258 yards on 35 carries and punched in a touchdown, kicker Jesus Gomez drilled three field goals, and the Eagles (2-1) never trailed in a 30-21 victory.
How good is EMU?
Image from emueagles.com
Here’s what Phil Steele wrote this summer:
EMU has pulled 16 upsets the last six years and won more Big 10 road games (three) from 2017-2019 than Maryland or Rutgers. In 2020, the 2-4 Eagles were -85.7 ypg in conference play (worst in the MAC West). EMU was just #104 and #123 on my Experience Chart in 2019 and 2020 but finally had an experienced team with 21 returning starters last year! All nine sets of my Power Ratings called for them to get to a fourth bowl in five years and they did but were blown out by Liberty to finish 7-6. This year they have 14 returning starters. They lost their QB to Cincy but bring in Troy QB Powell. EMU was -58.1 ypg in MAC play (#10) last year but are always better than their numbers…Ten years ago it would have been improbable but EM just had their sixth consecutive season with seven or more All-MAC selections. (If) transfer Powell replicates what transfer QB (Ben) Bryant did last year, it should be yet another bowl season.
Image from mlive.com
So far this season:
Eastern’s beaten #20 FCS Eastern Kentucky, 42-34, in a game in which the Eagles struggled to put the visiting Colonels away. Taylor Powell, a former top-20 quarterback recruit and a journeyman who’s spent time at Missouri and, last season, Troy, threw for 271 yards on 30 attempts with three touchdowns and an interception. Evans (pictured above) ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Second-team all-MAC wide receiver Hassan Beydoun caught three balls for 48 yards and a touchdown while fellow wideout Tanner Knue snagged a pair of touchdown passes. Defensively, however, the Eagles surrendered 29 first downs to EKU and gave up 492 yards (EMU had 395 yards of total offense). Eastern Kentucky’s quarterback, three-year veteran Parker McKinney, threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns. The Colonels hit Eastern Michigan’s defense for eight explosive plays.
OK, that’s game one. Eastern Kentucky’s a pretty good FCS team (it’s safe to say UB and its fans have a new respect for pretty good FCS teams).
Up next was Louisiana, the 2021 Sun Belt champion, riding high on what was (at the time) a 14-game winning streak but were acclimating to a 2022 season without star quarterback Levi Lewis (done) or head coach Billy Napier (left to coach Florida) while returning just 12 starters. The Eagles, on the road at Cajun Field, came in ready to take advantage—after all, according to head coach Chris Creighton, no one intimidates his team, anyway.
I mean, would you really? If EMU came to play at UB, and head coach Maurice Linguist said, “Hey, Chris, stadiums are for cowards. We’re going to play on the second-story parking lot at the Broadway Market,” I bet Chris Creighton would say no way.
Side note: you get a lot of this kind of stuff out of Eastern Michigan. The program really likes to play up the tough-guy aspect of the Mitten State.
Classy way to kick a man when he’s down. And, of course, we get one of our own:
Anyhow: what were were writing about? Louisiana, right.
Eastern Michigan jumped out to a 14-0 first-half lead on the Ragin’ Cajuns, and even went up 21-14 with seven minutes left in the third quarter after UL scored two quick touchdowns to open the second half, but their grip on lead slipped away in the 86-degree Lafayette heat. Louisiana, led by their unconventional quarterbacking duo of Ben Wooldridge and Chandler Fields, popped off five touchdowns over the final 19 minutes for a 49-21 victory.1
Powell threw for 317 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Evans only ran for 27 yards on 10 attempts, but he did pass for a three-yard touchdown (so we know they have that trick in their bag). Jaylon Jackson led EMU in rushing with 37 yards on five carries, 23 of which came on a single run. Knue, one of nine different Eagles with a catch, led the team with 89 yards and a touchdown.
Louisiana posted 459 yards on the Eastern defense, nearly 100 more yards than the Eagles’ offense. The Cajuns had eight explosive plays, but were genuinely helped by short fields provided by bad punt coverage and turnovers. EMU played a ball control game in the first half, but when the wheels came off the nickel-and-dime wagon, they came off hard.
Which brings us to the ASU upset:
In summary, courtesy of Jeremy Cluff of The Arizona Republic:
Arizona State was unable to stop Eastern Michigan's running game, led by RB Samson Evans, who rushed for 259 yards and a touchdown in the game on 36 attempts.
EMU gained 316 yards rushing in the game, averaging 6.4 yards per carry,
Eastern Michigan was a 19.5-point underdog in the game.
With the victory, the Eagles became the first MAC program to beat a Pac-12 team in the regular season.
Eastern Michigan lost Taylor Powell, its staring quarterback, in the first half, but relied on its running game to beat ASU without him.
Emory Jones went 20-for-32 passing for 185 yards and a touchdown for ASU in the loss.
Xazavian Valladay rushed for a 127 yards on 16 attempts for ASU, also scoring a touchdown.
The ASU defense couldn't keep Eastern Michigan off the field, as the Eagles didn't have to punt until the fourth quarter and only punted once in the game.
If the run game is a battle of wills, it’s fair to say the Sun Devils had theirs broken. Eastern posted 458 yards of offense to Arizona State’s 352, converted 11 of 15 third downs, and was five for five in the red zone—without, as mentioned above, a functional quarterback. Austin Smith dropped back for three passes in the second half—two were incomplete, and he was sacked on the third.
Be Gone, Devil
Image from ubbulls.com
So what’s all of this mean for Buffalo? In order to win, the Bulls—six-point underdogs—are going to need to face down their demons.
Stopping the run. UB is currently second to last in the MAC against the run, allowing over 196 yards per game on the ground. Considering the Bulls have two preseason first-team All-MAC defenders at run-stuffing positions (defensive tackle Daymond Williams and linebacker James Patterson), veteran contributors along the line, a rising star in linebacker Shaun Dolac and two hard-hitting safeties in Jahmin Muse and Marcus Fuqua, this is a bit mystifying. Part of that is skewed by playing a Maryland team with monster offensive lineman and two schools—Holy Cross and Coastal Carolina—that play tricky, run-heavy option offenses, but it’s still a worrying trend. With all the changes to the defense over the offseason—including a new defensive coordinator, Brandon Bailey—after three games, Buffalo is one yard worse against the rush than last season so far. If ever there was a day to tighten up, it is the day when Samson Evans is staring at you from the backfield.
Force the quarterback to beat you. Receiver Hassan Beydoun hasn’t had a breakout game this season. Taylor Powell is coming off an injury that kept him out of the second half of the ASU game. If he plays (he’s listed as starter in the game day program), it would be a good time to build on UB’s three sacks this season—a number that ties the team for 110th in the country. Without Powell, you have Smith, an inexperienced sophomore who threw one pass last season. Nine in the box, stuff the run, and bring the heat until someone gets burnt—which, actually, seems to play in Brandon Bailey’s aggressive style.
Drives need to end in touchdowns. The Bulls are nine-for-10 on scoring opportunities inside the red zone this season. Awesome, right? Well, against Coastal Carolina, three out of five red zone trips ended in field goals—which is why, despite holding the ball for 39:04 and running 93 total offensive plays, UB still lost by 12 points. The first part of that formula is perfect for Eastern Michigan: possess to ball, keep the Eagles’ run game off the field, wear down their suspect defense. It’ll be on offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery and quarterback Cole Snyder to figure out how to punch it in.
Feed Mike Washington. Ron Cook is a great kick returner, an interesting Swiss Army knife on offense, and a respected team leader. There’s not a lot of evidence he’s an every-down back. Al-Jay Henderson had a nice 19-yard touchdown run against Maryland, a 14-yard burst against Holy Cross, and that’s about it. Give Mike Washington the damn ball. Get him warm. Let him use that 6’2, 215-pound frame to punish. The everyone-gets-touches approach is helping to kill the offensive momentum on too many occasions.
In summary: stop the run, run the ball effectively, and score touchdowns. That’s why you come here, folks! Analysis. Hey, don’t turn it over, either, and force turnovers. Somebody put us on TV.
Today’s UB Starters
Not a ton of surprises. Good to see Elijah Blades is ready to go at cornerback; let him lock down Beydoun and call it a day. No Kyler Laing at the edge position as he deals with an injury. It’ll be a homecoming day for Quian Williams, who started his career at Eastern Michigan.
Around the MAC: Week 4
Image from twitter.com/BallStateFB
Kent State at #1 Georgia. The Bulldogs are 45-point favorites over the Golden Flashes (1-2), whose two losses have come to Washington and #6 Oklahoma.
Central Michigan at #14 Penn State. The Nittany Lions whipped Auburn, 41-12, last week and face the Chippewas (1-2) in their final tune-up before Big 10 play begins. PSU is a 28-point favorite.
Bowling Green at Mississippi State. Fresh off their upset over Marshall last week, the Falcons (1-2) have a chance to play the spoiler in Starkville. The Bulldogs are 2-1 and coming off a loss to LSU in the Swamp last weekend.
Fordham at Ohio. If we’ve learned anything, beware ranked FCS schools. Fordham is 3-0 and currently #18 in the national poll. The Bobcats (1-2) are looking for a happy ending after two consecutive losses to Penn State and Iowa State.
Toledo at San Diego State. An interesting Group of Five matchup. SDSU is 1-2 after losses to #13 Utah and Arizona, while Toledo is smarting from a 60-point, nationally televised loss to big brother #3 Ohio State. The Rockets (2-1) are three-point favorites on the raod.
Akron at Liberty. The Flames aren’t the same mid-major powerhouse knocking on the door of the Top 25 as they were last season with quarterback Malik Willis (who saw game reps against the Buffalo Bills on Monday). They are, however, 2-1, and took #21 Wake Forest down to the wire in a 37-36 loss last week. The Zips (1-2) are 26.5-point road dogs.
Ball State at Georgia Southern. The Cardinals (1-2) get to see old friend and former UB quarterback Kyle Vantrease—aka the man who killed former Nebraska head coach Scott Frost’s career. The Eagles are 2-1 after a loss to UAB last weekend; Ball State was strutting around Scheumann Stadium like cocks of the walk after beating FCS Murray State, 31-0, last Saturday.
Northern Illinois at #8 Kentucky. Not quite the magical joyride of 2021 for NIU (1-2) so far this season: a seven-point win over FCS Eastern Illinois, a three-point loss to Tulsa, and a 10-point defeat by Vanderbilt. A win over the undefeated Wildcats, who beat MAC rivals Miami by 24 points in Week One, seems implausible, especially if Huskies quarterback Rocky Lombardi can’t play after sustaining an injury against the Commodores.
Miami at Northwestern. If RedHawks (1-2) quarterback Brett Gabbert was healthy, this may be an interesting upset pick. However, Aveon Smith, the replacement for the injured signal-caller, was not impressive in a loss to Cincinnati last week, and despite Northwestern’s struggles—losses to Duke and FCS Southern Illinois after knocking off a less-than-impressive Nebraska in Week Zero—the Wildcats are 7.5-point favorites. Maybe, though?
Western Michigan at San Jose State: The WMU attack has been anemic—the Broncos (1-2) are 106th in the nation in total offense, thanks in large part to a passing game ranked 105th overall. There’s no fear of freshman quarterback Jack Salopek, allowing defenses to key in on star running backs Sean Tyler and La’Darius Jefferson. However, its two losses are, in fairness, to #24 Pittsburgh and #26 Michigan State. Western's a seven-point underdog and may be a sneaky-good pick on the road.
All right, folks—we need this one today. Horns up.