It's that time of year again! With football season around the corner, we here at Maize n Brew want to give YOU a small, but relatively filling portion of opponent previews. Kind of like a good stout - you don't need too much to feel warm and satisfied. You can also look elsewhere on the site for other previews, like broad overviews of the offense and defense, and position-specific previews. Next up, Michigan's third opponent of the season, the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
Setting the Stage
After the hangover of the night game against Notre Dame, Michigan looks to shake it off with an early-morning (gasp! 12am) game against Eastern, a traditional Michigan body-bag game. Uh, I recall saying things like this about Toledo and App State (whom were just inexplicably scheduled for 2014) so let's hold off. I don't really mind Ypsi much, having no good reason to go over there except the moderately fantastic Steak n Shake, which inexplicably doesn't exist in Ann Arbor. Those Hurons/Normalites/Eagles/whatevers have it good. For further meat on the bitter, bitter rivalry between local rivals, here's Josh Helmholdt from a few years ago:
It's the once-every-few-years-to-earn-some-money-for-the-EMU-Athletic-Department "Border Battle" and the anticipation could not be any less palpable. Ypsilantians and Ann Arborites are not glaring at each other in the grocery aisles at Kroger. In fact, they're unusually cordial this week. Holding this game every few years is just the neighborly thing to do.
Yep. Tremble, Ohio State rivalry fans. Tremble. How did this not make Yahoo's "Game of the Week?" and how did Michigan/OSU lose out to the Iron Bowl? Pshh. No links for you, Yahoo!
More goodies postjump.
Getting to Know Them
It's possible Ron English is a good head football coach, but he's fighting an uphill battle.
Eastern has struggled to find the hard-nosed and opportunistic style of play English seems to favor, which has resulted in two wins in the last few years. Starting their schedule this year with powerhouses like Alabama State and Howard might mean that this number might double. Or it won't.
The best player on Eastern is junior quarterback Alex Gillett. He's got a bit of speed and a decent arm, making him a solid if unspectacular dual-threat. The problem is his supporting cast. The offensive line has been patchwork, forcing Gillett to make tons of throws outside the pocket and wrong-footed. This is a recipe for disaster for any quarterback, let alone one with little running help. Eastern barely made it into the top 100 in passing efficiency last year, and with 117 FBS teams, that's not so great. Gillett balanced 13 TDs against 13 interceptions last year, so his decision-making looks to be somewhere between that of a brick and that of freshman-year Denard. Hope it stays that way for this game.
The running game was really only decent because Gillett has the presence of mind to run forward sometimes, to the tune of over 700 yards and five touchdowns. Not shabby. Eastern's leading RB from last year, Dwayne Priest, is gone, leaving the load to Dominique Sherrer. Sherrer has his job cut out for him, as the O-Line looks to replace two starters and the other three were merely average, but Gillett's legs should help him out as well.
Speaking of help for Gillett, Eastern's biggest area of concern besides their entire defensive front seven is probably their wide receiving corps. Gillett's only two threats are returning WR Kinsman Thomas and TE Ben Thayer. Both can stretch the field vertically, so at least Woolfolk and Avery/Floyd/someone will run a bit. Hopefully the LBs can get some pass coverage practice as well against Thayer - I'd like to see Kenny Demens improve in pass coverage this year.
lol 43.6 ppg allowed who are you, Michigan under GERG? But seriously, I know I make fun of the MAC defenses, but this is why. The MAC has some decent air-it-out offenses but the lack of defensive talent is just comical. Eastern actually has a couple decent corners, bolstered by the transfer of CB Marlon Pollard from UCLA. They will also look to some fresh faces to improve the pass rush, anchored by Phil Steel's Preseason All-Mac Team DE Devin Henderson. But for reals. Expect Denard to run wild in this one. Hopefully not too wild. Maybe we can see some Devin Gardner in this game for the second half.
Eastern gave up 70+ points TWICE last year, so a newly minted Michigan offense better put up at least 35 or a lot of people aren't going to be happy. In Michigan's favor is the fact that Eastern just doesn't catch the ball on defense, picking off just two passes last year. If the turnover margin for this game is something like +4-5 in Michigan's favor, then great. If not, watch out, as I can see that Notre Dame hangover coming a mile away. Pollard and their other CB, a guy named Marcell Rose, are both ball-hawks, so Denard had better be crisp. With that D-line, though, Denard will have a ton of time to throw.
So not writing a special teams preview for Eastern. What? I have to? Okay. Real quick: Sherrer, while unspectacular in the backfield, averages 20+ yards per kick return, so please cover him well. Just kick the ball out the back of the endzone. Most teams can do that if they aren't holding kicker tryouts in the parking lot before games.
Matchups to Watch
Michigan's 2 and 3 WRs against Pollard/Rose/others - someone besides Roundtree needs to step up outside.
Shaw versus a weak Eagles front seven - the new starter best have a good game, or I'm calling for tryouts.
Michigan versus the last five years against poor teams - please, sweet jeepers, no Drano for me today...
Anything Else Relevant
This is the first game in the OSU ticket pack that I bought, so it's going to be a fun afternoon unless Michigan loses to Notre Dame, in which case I will tremble through the first quarter and rage for the rest.
What to Drink
Finally, something to actually write about. If you're ever in Ypsi (and actually, I encourage you to stop by this particular brewery at some point, perhaps late-afternoon) check out the Corner Brewery for their Sacred Cow IPA. It was relatively cheap the last time I was there, and it's by far their best beer.
It's fairly citrusy for an IPA, tasting like a stronger, more coppery Belgian wheat ale with an orange in it. As for IPAs themselves, they generally are more hoppy and higher in alcohol content than regular pale ales. Why? I'm sure someone on this site has written about this before, but the India in IPA means that the original brewing style comes from England back when they were still colonial powers. The English drink like fish constantly, which I can respect, and their colonists were no exception. Because of what I can only assume was total snobbery, they preferred beer brewed in the British Isles, so in a fairly genius idea, brewers realized adding more hops and brewing a higher alcohol content would preserve the beer for the long journey over. The result? A keg that could last without refrigeration for several months. The style persisted even in the age of jet transportation and refrigeration, meaning we all get the benefits of British colonial alcoholism. I for one fully support such things.
Speaking of higher alcohol content, did you know that Guinness brews their stout for foreign consumption with higher alcohol content for the same reasons? Arthur Guinness totally ripped that idea from, guess where, IPAs! After failing to make ale, Guinness ended up accidentally brewing a stout, and 250 years later, we still get to deal with their obsessive cult of personality.
Lastly - if the game for some reason turns sour, I would highly recommend switching to the Corner Brewery's Phat Abbot Belgian Duppel, or, if you're really upset, go with the Phat Abbott Triple. I didn't try the double, but the Triple is really good for a 10% ABV beer, challenging (in my opinion) Dogfish Head's fantastic Dogfish 12. The reason is the banana. I don't know why, but there's a subtle hint of banana in the Triple that is totally unexpected and a really nice change from your average citrus. Anyone been to Corner as well? Any thoughts? I really like this place.
Cheers, Michigan Faithful!