By: Steven Lassan | 6/3/11, 1:41 PM EDT
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You can read the entire Eastern Michigan preview in Athlon Sports' 2011 Big Ten magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#112 Eastern Michigan
MAC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Ron English, 2-22 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ken Karcher | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Snow
Eastern Michigan hopes to build on its two victories in 2010, and Alex Gillett is the foundation of that hope. The junior quarterback played a key role for the Eagles last year, leading the rushing attack with 766 yards and five touchdowns. What makes the deceptively quick quarterback more dangerous this year is an improved arm, which should help open up an offense that averaged 19.0 points per game. If Gillett can translate better passing skills into a more wide-open attack, the offense should be able to generate more points. But he will need some help from a receiving corps that lacks consistency. Kinsman Thomas and Donald Scott will lead the way but have to become more reliable targets if the Eagles are going to take advantage of Gillett’s improvement.
While Gillett found success on the ground, the Eagles’ overall ground game remains in question. Javonti Greene and Dominique Sherrer — the two leading candidates to take the backfield lead, combined to average just over 36 yards per game. Greene is the more explosive and elusive of the two, but both will have the opportunity to contribute.
The Eagles surrendered 43.9 points per game, a number that ranked 118th in the nation. Since arriving two years ago, Ron English — a former defensive coordinator at Michigan and Louisville — has pushed for more physical play. He finally believes like the Eagles are playing at a level that could help spark improvement. Eastern Michigan will depend on several junior college transfers to provide some immediate assistance for a unit that lost its two leading tacklers to graduation. Justin Cudworth, who registered 47 tackles and 5.5 sacks last year at College of the Canyons (Calif.) anchors a linebacking corps infused by three new junior college faces.
Much-improved defensive end Andy Mulumba should be a force on the defensive line, which also includes veterans Brad Ohrman and Javon Reese.
The defensive backfield will also look for a new leader with the loss of third-leading tackler Ryan Downard. The secondary was among the focal points addressed in recruiting. Returnee Marcell Rose should take a lead role but will need assistance from two transfers, safety Bryan Pali (Orange Coast College) and cornerback Marlon Pollard (UCLA).
The kickoff game and field goal unit both need improvement after both areas lacked consistency last season. Standout punter Jay Karutz is the only special teams player who enters the season with his job security assured.
Eastern Michigan may finally have some pieces to improve after producing a 2–14 league mark the previous two seasons. With the defensive upgrades made through recruiting and a tougher overall approach, the defense may show enough to give the Eagles’ offense a fighting chance. That’s where Gillett taking the next step comes into play.
This season, with more experience on defense and a confidence level English says is at its highest since he arrived, there is a hope for a bump in the win column. “We do have team goals and much higher expectations than we have ever had before here,” he says. “This is the best I’ve felt about the team because of the culture of the team and the attitude of the team.”
While English is convinced he has done enough to raise expectations, the Eagles may struggle to escape the MAC West Division basement.