It's time the Old Dominion Monarchs got a good dose of #MACtion, and they will experience just that as the Eastern Michigan Eagles set up camp at Foreman Field tomorrow night at 6. The Eagles are...let's just say, they haven't really had a ton of success recently, and their last game against Florida was, well, not very competitive. All that aside, I did a Q&A with Ngandu Kasuku from our sister site, Hustle Belt (who covers all things MAC athletics), to get a good look at the Eagles.
The Chris Creighton era begins at Eastern Michigan after he was hired away from FCS Drake after leading them to a 42-22 record. What does he bring to the table, and isn't there a risk involved in bringing in an FCS coach from a non-scholarship league to a FBS program that has had only three non-losing seasons since 1987?
More than anything else, Creighton brings head coaching experience. If you look at his predecessors (English, Genyk, Rasnick, Woodruff and Cooper), none of them had head coaching experience at the collegiate level. Eastern's philosophy with each hire was to pluck an assistant from one of the Power Five conference schools. The thought was that each would bring some sort of cache that would translate into better recruiting and a winning philosophy. In the end, it didn't work because Eastern is a tough job. In fact it may be the toughest in the country. For that reason, hiring a coach without head coaching experience, much less experience as a coordinator at the collegiate level, is pretty risky. At least with Creighton, he has some concept of what it's like to build a program. I'm not sure if any of his predecessors could say that.
You schedule these games against the power five teams and, of course, there is the big payoff at the end for the program (in this case, $875,000 to take on Florida). From an EMU player's standpoint, what does that do to their overall mindset, especially keeping the team's past struggles in mind, to go into one of the most well-known college venues in the country and get destroyed the way they did?
It's a tough question. And while I'm reluctant to opine on the musings of a college football player, my guess is that culturally, the players at Eastern are so used to it, that it probably doesn't faze them. I suppose they walk into this thing with pride and the expectation of playing tough. But as an athlete, it's not hard to know when you're up against a superior opponent. In this instance, it came pretty quickly. Having said that, I suspect that it won't be very difficult to get up for this game. In terms of talent, the Eagles are every bit as talented as the Monarchs; they just lack the structure, cohesiveness and consistency that comes with being led by the same coaching staff for an extended period of time.
Unfortunately, the team has had to deal with an off-field distraction with three of its players facing assault charges. How is the staff currently handling that?
As of today, all three players are free on bond. Creighton hasn't said much on the matter due to FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) rules. But they remain on the team, even if they're not listed on the depth chart.
Who are the impact players for Eastern Michigan that ODU needs to keep an eye on during the game on Saturday?
Just watch the offense. Senior running back Bronson Hill is one of the best backs in the MAC. At 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds, he's got great size and great speed to match. He almost single-handedly beat a good Toledo team last year. Last year he ran for 1,101 rushing yards off of 196 attempts (5.6 yards per carry) with five touchdowns. As a result, he was added to the Doak Walker Award watch list this year. Along with Hill, tackle Lincoln Hansen made last year's All-MAC third team. Senior tight end Tyreese Russell may actually be their best player. He's got good size and he was very productive last year he leading the team with 594 reception yards and finishing second in receptions with 44.
What are the keys to victory for the Eagles to pick up this win?
I'd love give you some sophisticated answer, but it really isn't that complicated. The Eagles were outgained 125 to 655 in total yards last week. They were 3-14 on third down. The trio of Brogan Roback, Reginald Bell Jr. and Rob Bolden went 9-21 with 45 yards passing, compared to 80 yards on the ground. To sum it all up, they just need to play better fundamental football. Of course, the Monarchs are a significant step down in talent from the Gators who simply underachieved last year. How about this: forget scheme, just hold on to the damn ball! The Eagles turned the ball over 5 times last week; 5 times!
What's your prediction for this game?
After that performance last week, I can't possibly pick the Eagles. Old Dominion 42 Eastern 30.