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Michigan v. Eastern Michigan Q & A With Eagle Totem

Believe it or not there IS an Eastern Michigan Eagles Football Blog out there. Really! Eagle Totem gave us a shout about doing a Q&A. We honestly knew next to nothing about this week's opponent, so this couldn't have come at a better time. Enjoy!

MnB Dave:  You have Mike Hart on your staff. Tell us how much you love him. And you do. DON'T LIE! HE IS AWESOME!

We’ll see. Now that one "little brother" has had a nice go of things, maybe it's a littler brother's turn.

MnB Dave:  In all seriousness, talk about the staff at EMU. The last few years have been really painful ones for EMU football. How is the rebuilding process progressing?

With progress.

It’s hard to really tell where the team is right now, due to the level of the first two opponents. We’ll know a lot more in 10 days. At that point, EMU will be like the statistician who lay with his head in the freezer and his feet in the oven. On average he was fine; an average of Howard, Alabama State, Michigan, and Penn State should be about MAC quality.

MnB Dave:  Do you foresee the Eagles contending for a MAC title, or even a division title in the near future?

My expectation is that EMU should finish at 3-5 or 4-4 in the MAC this year, partly due to continued improvement and partly due to a weak conference schedule that doesn’t include Temple, Ohio, or Miami, and gets the most-winnable games (Akron, Buffalo, Ball State) at home. I can imagine them having an outside shot at a division title next year.

MnB Dave:  We've heard a lot about Eastern's ground game. Why is it so potent this year and are you doing anything different from last season?

At this point it’s hard to say if it really is any better than last year, or if the statistical improvement is due to the weaker opponents. From what I’ve seen, the receivers are starting to show some blocking ability, and that’s turned some 3-5 yard runs into 10-20 yard gains. Also, last year Dwayne Priest was the #1 running back, but there was no clear #2. Priest struggled with injuries through much of the middle of the season, missing several games, and even when he played he was hampered. The lack of a clear #2 running back meant that time got shared between several players, and no one ever seemed to get really comfortable.

This year the Eagles have a clear 1-2-3 punch, or really 1-1-3. Junior Dominique Sherrer is listed as the starter, but he’s split carries evenly with sophomore Javonti Greene. They’re fairly similar runners who both have good speed and the ability to make a cut or two, but probably lack the power to do much in a clogged middle of the field. More James Starks than Michael Turner, if you will. Gillett has dropped from the #2 ball carrier last year to #3 this year, but he’s still more than willing to pull the ball in and take off running, and he’s had a 40+ yard run in each of the first two games.

MnB Dave: Talk about your passing offense, talk about your quarterback and your play makers on the outside.

Last week I described the passing offense as "an afterthought you wish you hadn’t thought of". There was very little of it, and most of that was ugly. Some of that failure was on Alex Gillett, and some of it might be credit to the Alabama State pass defense, which was one of the best in FCS last year, but the offensive line hasn’t given him very good protection in either game and the receivers have dropped plenty of on-target passes. The offensive line suffered a blow with the loss to injury of Korey Neal, who started eight games last year, but I think they’ll improve as they get more reps as a unit.

The receivers should also get better as soon as this weekend, with the expected return of Kinsman Thomas. Thomas was the #1 receiver in 2010, but he was suspended for the first two games for an unspecified team rules violation. He wasn’t listed on EMU’s depth chart for this week, but EMU’s depth charts tend to be lagging rather than leading, so I do expect him to start.

More after the jump.....

MnB Dave: Defending Denard Robinson is a futile endeavor, but EMU will be asked to do that anyway. How will the Eagles try to slow him down?

I think the most they can hope for is to contain him in the pocket and force him to try to win with his arm. If he gets loose it will be a long afternoon for EMU fans.

MnB Dave:  Who are your defensive play makers? Are any of them future NFL or at least all-conference material?

The defensive players to watch are senior defensive end Brad Ohrman, senior middle linebacker Marcus English, junior weak-side linebacker (juco transfer) Justin Cudworth, sophomore cornerback (UCLA transfer) Marlon Pollard, and 6th year senior safety (Louisville transfer) Latarrius Thomas. Pollard is also dangerous on punt returns. If had to pick just one to watch based on the first two games, it would be Cudworth.

MnB Dave:  Your prediction?

Much as I’d love to call for an EMU win, or even a close game like Toledo played against Ohio State, I just don’t see it happenning. Best case, the offense shortens the game by running relentlessly with just a few mid-range passes to K. Thomas mixed in, the run defense forces Denard into a lot of passing, special teams deliver consistent field position advantage, and Michigan wins 34-24. Worst case is probably still not as bad as the 2005 disaster, so let's call it 48-3. Realistically I expect the game to be midway between those extremes.