The Factory opened for the 2014 football season after finding their new head coach Chris Creighton. I don’t know what they made in the Factory during the first two seasons, but it wasn’t good. The Eagles were 3-21 in the first two seasons under Creighton, but after 4 wins in the previous two seasons, it wasn’t surprising.
The third-year at the Factory was a relative explosion of production. Eastern Michigan won seven games and went to the Bahamas Bowl. It was their first bowl game since 1987. Ever since leaving the basement of the MAC, the Eagles have been the source of questions.
Can they keep winning?
Can a good team be built in the shadow of the University of Michigan?
Is a relapse into obscurity right around the corner?
Is Chris Creighton a miracle worker?
Until proven wrong, Chris Creighton is a miracle worker.
The Production Line is Operational
After the seven-win season in 2016, the Eagles have stayed right around there. They’ve hung around the .500 mark in the MAC. For context, the last time that EMU won 12 conference games over a 3 season period was 1995 to 1997 under Rick Rasnick. There were individual seasons of being competitive over the down period. But. When the players that are committing to your school were newly born the last time you won five conference games, there is work to do there.
I’m not going to get into the gulf. I’m going to look at last season. It’s better than the gulf. A seven-win season and 5 of those wins conference is a good season. It could have been better. Eastern went 2-4 out of the gate and all four losses were by one possession. Two went into overtime.
The scoring defense was the best in the MAC, and the offense was 6th in scoring offense. Even with then-junior quarterback Mike Glass going down with an injury halfway through the season, the offense was serviceable.
Retooling for the New Season
Eastern Michigan loses a lot heading into 2019. According to Bill Connelly’s returning production numbers, they return the 14th least in the nation. It’s far from a perfect measure but there is a correlation between big jumps in the production level.
Two starting offensive lineman return, the leading receiver graduated, and all of the starting defensive lineman and linebackers are missing from last season. The number one scoring defense may not be as strong as they were last season.
Among the players that are returning are some stars. When I wrote about the players to watch Brody Hoying made the list as Eastern Michigan’s DOG position. He plays the run aggressively and rushes the passer regularly. He’s very good at it. Kevin McGill is another returning defensive back that had an exceptional 2018 season. He is a first-team all-MAC cornerback per Athlon Sports.
On the offensive side, quarterback Mike Glass returns from injury. There shouldn’t be any controversy about who is the starter this year. Last year he split time early until he won the starting spot. Then he got injured.
Chris Creighton and staff tried to address this as best as they could. The recruiting class signed had 8 junior college players in it. That’s a lot. Far more than normal. It’s a short term strategy that can work out but if the freshmen in that class leave the program at a higher rate than normal for any reason, there will be a thin senior class in a couple of years. If that comes around at the wrong time, it could be trouble for Creighton at EMU.
Current State – Two Week Review
Currently, the Eagles are 1-1. Definitely could be worse, I’m not sure it could be better. EMU has played Coastal Carolina and Kentucky. A comeback win against Coastal, 30 to 23, is a good start. Losing that game would be leaving a winnable game on the table.
Glass was extremely efficient. He threw the ball 22 times and only 2 incompletions. Shaq Vann ran for 84 yards and caught two passes for 13 yards. The defense got after it. They had 6 tackles for loss and intercepted four passes. That’s a result that Chris Creighton can work with for week one.
The Kentucky game didn’t go their way. The ground game could not get moving and it cost them. The Eagles averaged 2.2 yards per carry. With only one option left to move the ball, Mike Glass did a good job shouldering the load. Connecting on 34 of 53 passes, taking only one sack, for a total of 337 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The defense was not as mean in week 2. They allowed 6.1 yards per rush, and Kentucky got to rotate in some quarterbacks. As I said, it was not ideal.
All in all, the Eagles were far from embarrassed in week 2. The Factory needed a payday.
Managing Expectations, Stretch Goals
What can we learn from two weeks of games? The offense is fine. A dual-threat quarterback behind center that can make a play when he needs to can be a solution for many possible issues. They probably won’t be the best offense in the MAC but it’s not unreasonable to expect some improvement from 2018.
The defense is a little more unclear. The Coastal Carolina game was a fantastic showcase of how they look when the plan works. The Kentucky game showed that stopping the run may still be an issue. They won’t be at that level of talent disadvantage against MAC teams though, so who knows what that actually tells us.
Looking forward, Illinois suddenly looked competent against Akron but played UConn way to close to make me think there that Illinois can take Saturday to the bank. Worst case is 2-2 with FCS opponent Central Connecticut after Illinois.
MAC play is more volatile. ESPN’s FPI has them favored, currently, in 5 of 8 conference games. Every game except Toledo, Western Michigan, and Northern Illinois. Last season the Eagles were 1-2 against that group with a total point differential of -4. They belong in that group.
I’m not sold on NIU since they are under new management. Thomas Hammock has to prove to me that he can continue what he was handed before I believe that they’re the same tough Huskies. Toledo and Western are solid but EMU beat Toledo last season. Mike Glass was wearing them out until he left the game just before half time.
Can Eastern get to 6 conference wins and have their best season in a long, long time? Absolutely. Can they lose some ground with a young defense and get surprised by Ball State and Buffalo? Yup.
Coach Creighton can have this team ready to play and get to six conference wins. This season should be the best since they opened the Factory. I can’t wait to see what gets built this season.