By: chalifour.eric | 5/5/12, 2:07 PM EDT
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You can read the entire Eastern Michigan preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 National magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#103 Eastern Michigan
MAC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Ron English, 8-28 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ken Karcher | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Snow
A balanced running game that ranked 14th nationally (218.3 ypg) returns at full strength, led by quarterback Alex Gillett (736 yards, three TDs), Javonti Greene (667 yards, six TDs) and Dominique Sherrer. Coach Ron English, however, would like his ball-carriers to be a bit more elusive this season and hopes the addition of former Michigan star Mike Hart as the running backs coach will help in that area.
English also wants more offensive balance, putting more responsibility on Gillett. The senior was adequate as a passer in 2011 (1,504 yards, 14 TDs, seven INTs), but Gillett must be more consistent in his decision-making and must finish scoring drives better than he did last year, when breakdowns led to missed chances.
The addition of freshmen receivers Dustin Creel and Quincy Jones gives Eastern Michigan length and athleticism that has been lacking for years at the position.
The Eagles ranked 34th nationally in total defense but must replace three key players up front. Linebacker Justin Cudworth, who made a team-high 83 tackles — 8.5 for a loss — is the tone-setter attitude-wise. Tackle Devin Henderson missed last season with academic issues but should be a key contributor, as should returning starting rush end Andy Mulumba (51 tackles, 3.5 sacks).
The biggest additions come at nose tackle and defensive tackle, where junior college transfers Cy Maughmer and Travis Linser will add experience and physicality that should keep the Eagles competitive in the MAC.
The secondary is a mixed bag, as the Eagles return both starting cornerbacks, including Marlon Pollard, who made 54 tackles last season in his first year at Eastern after transferring from UCLA. The biggest concern comes at safety, where English must replace both starters. Sophomores Kevin Johnson and Pudge Cotton have big shoes to fill.
The unit made a “big jump” in 2011, according to English. Sophomore Demarius Reed was the MAC’s second-leading punt returner, averaging 12.8 yards per return. But like other aspects of Eastern Michigan’s overall performance, English wants more consistency from a special teams unit that was all over the map. Kicker Mike Yocum had five touchbacks, but the Eagles struggled on kickoff coverage.
Last year’s six wins represented the most the program has posted in a single season since 1995. English has seemingly moved past many of the distractions that hindered his team early in his tenure, making it possible for him to focus solely on on-the-field matters.
Despite the relative success last year, EMU struggled down the stretch, losing three of its four games in November. All three losses were by six points or less, and all were defined by the missed opportunities that come with the kind of inconsistency English harps on. “As a team right now, we do not consistently do what we’re coached to do,” says English, the MAC’s reigning Coach of the Year. “So that’s going to be the biggest emphasis.”
The schedule won’t be as friendly in 2012. There are two road games against Big Ten foes (Purdue, Michigan State) in September, and the Eagles have to play both Toledo and Western Michigan, two of the top teams in the MAC’s West Division. Eastern Michigan might be a better team in 2012 but not win as many games.