To me, the most interesting thing in the college football world is the case study of a fanbase after the first loss of the season. In my mind, there’s no better barometer to tell you how fans self-evaluate the importance of their football program than their reaction after the first “L” goes on the books in a young season. The pessimists will gather their angry mobs on messageboards and radio shows and demand that the coach be beaten, fired, then beaten again. It matters little to those people who beat them, just that a loss occurred, and by God, someone had better pay for it (See: Georgia). There’s the Eeyores of the bunch who trudge away from a loss with their collective heads held low, feet shuffling, and a “Well, we knew that was going to happen” (See: Kentucky). Then there’s the conspiracy theorists about how the officials screwed them, the locker room was too hot, the other team played dirty, etc. (See: Indiana). It takes a special program to combine all of them into one fanbase for a week, but that’s exactly where BSU has found itself.
But you know what cures those ills better than anything else? Alcohol. But if that’s not an option because it’s Friday morning and you have to work, then the next best thing is a beatable opponent to take the focus on the bad and back on the good, of which there is plenty. Because of that, it’s time to Countdown to Eastern Michigan!
5 Things You Should Know
- Eastern Michigan does have a 1-2 record, but that record wasn’t earned against schmucks. EMU’s two losses were on the road, against Rutgers and Penn State, and neither were blowouts. I’m wary of using the margin of victory against a team to somehow justify a loss, but the fact remains that though this EMU team may very well be awful, their record (and statistics) just don’t show it conclusively.
- The storyline for this game from some will be former BSU head coach Stan Parrish now serving as EMU’s offensive coordinator. While troubling, what’s even more so is the connection between BSU and EMU GA Michael Switzer. Whereas Parrish and offensive line coach Brad Wilson simply worked/played at BSU, Switzer is perhaps the most dangerous connection when it comes to counterintelligence. Switzer is well-versed in Lembo’s schematics and was a 2012 captain for BSU. If there was ever anyone who knew the ins and outs of the Lembo/Skrosky offense and how to beat it, it’s him.
- In some respects, EMU’s defense is feast or famine. The Eagles run a blitz heavy defensive package that either allows for opportunities for the opposing offense or creates sack opportunities for EMU. The Eagles are 9th nationally in sacks, so suffice to say, keeping Keith Wenning protected is a fairly big bullet point on the Cardinals’ to-do list.
- Parrish’s impact is being felt almost immediately as EMU has suddenly drifted away from the power running game they were known for and instead now air it out. Last week saw the Eagles throw for 335 yards against Rutgers which certainly kept them in the game. The Parrish offense is reliant almost entirely on a QB capable of airing it out and making plays. Whether Tyler Benz is capable of that on a consistent basis remains to be seen, but doing it against Rutgers would seem to indicate he is.
- Like last week, OTP will be running a Liveblog for the contest beginning at 12:30 Saturday. It’s a good time to discuss the goings on of the game with fellow Cardinal fans, and if last week was any indication, critique our student media. It’s a hoot and a half and kicks off at 12:30 here at OTP.
4 Players to Know
- QB Tyler Benz – As mentioned above, Benz is in the driver’s seat of the Parrish system and it’s made a big difference for him through three games. He’s certainly capable of airing it out, but the question is whether he’s capable of doing it consistently and accurately. His completion percentage would say that’s the case, as he’s yet to have a game under 60% but he’s also thrown two INTs. Truthfully, the game Saturday may very well come down to Benz and whether or not he can beat the Cards through the air.
- RB Bronson Hill – For a team that’s long been known as a run first football program, no one has to be more flummoxed by the shift to a pass first spread than Bronson Hill. With only 169 yards through three games, that’s not the kind of output EMU or Hill is used to. His average yards per carry is a shade north of 3, so he is someone BSU needs to be aware of.
- LB Hunter Matt – Matt certainly announced his presence with authority at Penn State, as the sophomore recorded two sacks, forced a fumble, recovered it, and then scored with it. Not a bad day at a giant office.
- TE Tyreese Russell – Russell caught nine passes on Saturday against Rutgers, so Jay Bateman may want to let his defense know about this fella. As we saw when Parrish was here as our offensive coordinator, the tight end position is a vital one to the success of his offense. As Benz gets more familiar with it, that position and Russell’s impact will only grow.
3 Ways We Win
- The mistakes of last week turn out to be a one-week anomaly. Suffice to say, the easiest way to win would be to limit things like injuries, penalties, and turnovers. Perhaps that simplicity is why I never made it as a football coach. Though “Don’t turn the ball over, don’t get hurt, don’t make mistakes” always seemed like a solid gameplan to me.
- The defense forces EMU to either run it or pass it, preferably run it. The thing that BSU’s defense seems to struggle with, like most teams, is versatile teams that don’t necessarily have a tendency or a trend. Teams that you can pinpoint what they’re doing (like Army), BSU does well against. They also struggle with versatile QBs, not that Benz is one of those, so slanting the opposition’s production to one particular method would be awesome.
- BSU plays like BSU and EMU plays like EMU. At its most basic point, this is a game between a good football team and one that isn’t. Some Saturdays, that doesn’t matter as upsets are known to happen, but when the rubber hits the road, if this game is played 10 times, BSU wins 8 of them easy. If both teams play to potential then the Cards win going away. But that’s a massive qualifier at the front of that statement.
2 Cardinal Questions
- With Jahwan Edwards back does the BSU offense change all that much? In the games that Quake sat out, Horactio Banks was certainly productive, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that BSU seemed more pass heavy than normal against the likes of North Texas and Army. Once an offense establishes an identity it’s hard to reboot mid-season, but I would think a return to the balanced attack of years past is coming and I am tremendously grateful for that. The offense has slowly gone done in production from 51 to 40 to 27 and this will be arguably the best defense they will have faced.
- What kind of aggression will we see at the line of scrimmage? This EMU team has made its bones so far this season making life difficult for opposing QBs. The BSU offensive line has performed well this season, but not necessarily dominant. That has to change on Saturday. Same goes for the defensive front. At times, the likes of Ollie, Cox, Newsome, and Miles have looked like a formidable group. Other times? Not so much. The line play on both sides has to improve.
1 Bold Prediction
On the OTPcast this week, I said that there was something about this pending contest that was giving me a bit of the willies for no particular reason. After some significant hemming and hawing, I picked the Cards to win by a point. One single solitary point against the EMU Eagles. I can’t do that again, and like Lee Corso, I’m about to drop a “Not So Fast My Friend” on myself. For two games this season, BSU looked like world beaters. Even if that was a combination of their talent and an overmatched opponent, they still looked like a significantly good football team. Last Saturday, that wasn’t the case, for three quarters. Finally this season, the coaching staff has had a week full of learning opportunities and the players’ attention. Throw in that it’s the conference opener and against some familiar faces in EMU that stir up some considerable emotion in some players, fans, and staff and I think the intangibles are just too much. Call me nuts, but I’ll go with BSU 42 EMU 21, and that’s with Lembo being gracious and taking his foot off the gas midway through the 4th.