***** NCAA Football Preview - Eastern Michigan Eagles *****
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: Eastern Michigan gave its fans a reason to be
optimistic last year by finishing 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the Mid-American
Conference with a young offensive unit.
Coach Ron English guided his team to back-to-back victories over FCS opponents
Howard (41-9) and Alabama State (14-7). EMU then dropped back down to .500
after unsuccessful visits to Michigan (31-3) and Penn State (34-6). The Eagles
flew past Akron (31-24) in their MAC opener, but were unsuccessful their next
time out as the Toledo Rockets (54-16) dismantled them. EMU bounced back with
two straight wins over Central Michigan (35-28) and Western Michigan (14-10),
but it lost three of its last four games to close out the year.
The Eagles did not qualify for bowl game consideration with six wins because
two of their victories came over FCS opponents.
OFFENSE: English challenged Alex Gillett this spring by declaring the
quarterback position open. The three-year starter got the message and improved
his footwork and passing accuracy enough to impress his coach. Gillett's
ability to scramble helped him dash for a team-best 736 yards last year.
EMU had the 14th best rushing attack in the nation in 2011. The offensive line
that did the work in the trenches to give the Eagles such a successful running
game returns all five starters. To further enhance the offense, six of the
team's top seven rushers are back as well.
The success in the running game desperately needs to be balanced out by a more
efficient passing attack. Gillett has a pair of adequate targets in Nick Olds
and Demarius Reed to help make that possible. Tight end Garrett Hoskins is
also a valuable asset. Hoskins was second on the team with 328 receiving yards
DEFENSE: EMU had one of the better defenses in the MAC last season, allowing
just 350.3 yards per game. The Eagles lose key players from 2011's successful
unit though. The defensive line and secondary are both areas of concern.
Defensive end Andy Malumba is the only returning player from the front four.
The linebacking corps is led by leading returning tackler Justin Cudworth.
Bryan Pali and Colin Weingrad will both play significant roles alongside the
"I embrace the (leader) role in every drill, every film session, every
practice, and every game." said Cudworth. "I conduct myself as best I can and
not only lead by example but also talk to the younger guys and show them
things here and there."
The Eagles have a pair of talented cornerbacks in Marlon Pollard (54 tackles,
one INT) and Marcell Rose (56 tackles, one INT). Sean Cotton and Kevin
Johnson, the projected starting safeties, are both sophomores with a long way
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Eagles return both their kicker Kody Fulkerson and punter
Jay Karutz from last season. Fulkerson struggles with accuracy on longer tries
and made 14-of-21 field goal attempts last season. Karutz did not have a punt
blocked all of last season and averaged 38.8 yards per punt. Tyler Allen
impressed the coaching staff in the spring with his electrifying speed, enough
so to be made the team's return man.
OUTLOOK: EMU will need Gillett and the offense to carry the burden for the
early part of the season as the seven new defensive starters get their feet
wet. The Eagles will need to improve their ability to hang on to the ball for
that to be possible, as they were 91st in the NCAA in turnover margin per game
(-0.42) last season.
"Every year is different. I don't know what kind of team we have," said
English. "I know we have some talented players but I don't know until they are
challenged if they are tough people. But we'll find out."
English's team will not have an easy road to start its quest for the school's
first bowl bid since 1987. EMU begins its 2012 season with a bout with MAC
rival Ball State on the road. The Eagles then have their home opener versus
Illinois State before back-to-back road games versus Purdue and Michigan
State. The team will then have 5 of its last 8 games at Rynearson Stadium.
The Eagles will host Army to end their non-conference slate and have the luxury
of facing Toledo and Northern Illinois at home.
The Eagles are a very tough team to predict this season. Their defense is a
question mark with all of the departures. The non-conference action for the
inexperienced players on the defense will be vital as they need to be on the
field for as many snaps as possible before EMU enters the heart of its MAC
08/20 10:45:12 ET