Next in our edition of keeping the enemy close, we check on the Eastern Michigan Eagles:
Q: This is the first meeting between Eastern Michigan and Rutgers in the history of the two schools. For RU fans who may not be familiar with EMU, what is the state of the program right now? Are fans optimistic, doubtful, hopeful?
Some of the younger fans (e.g., underclassmen) may still be optimistic, but among older fans -- particularly those who've been around more than five years -- I think there's a fear that this season will be a lost season with a "lame duck" head coach who's proven to be mediocre at best. The on-field talent is there, but Ron English has demonstrated over the last four years that he doesn't know what to do with that talent.
Q: What is your take on the state of the MAC for 2013? Is it a one-team race with NIU, or can other teams make a surprise run?
No, it's certainly not a one-team race. It's early to tell, because NIU has only played one game, but right now it looks to me like Ball State could give the Huskies a run for their money in the West Division, and it's far too early to count Toledo out. In the East, Bowling Green looks like the team to beat, particularly after the way they handled Kent State last weekend.
Q: Based on outside perception, EMU head coach Ron English appears to be on the hot seat entering 2013. He had some momentum after winning MAC coach of the year in 2011, but last season didn't go as well for him. Do you think English makes it through the season?
"Appears to be on the hot seat" is a bit of an understatement. This was a major topic of offseason discussion among EMU fans. I'd be willing to bet that English will not be EMU's head coach after this season. His record through four years was not good, and although the defense looks better since he took over as defensive coordinator this year, this doesn't look like a team that can win enough games to earn English a contract extension. Although recruiting has been somewhat improved since English took over (which may have to do with English and his staff, but also may have something to do with facilities improvements that EMU has completed, such as an indoor practice facility -- something EMU should have had years ago), his won-loss record is worse than that of his three predecessors. Add in a new athletic director who may be eager to make her mark with a high-profile hire, and I think you've got a recipe for an unemployed former head coach.
If you're reading this and thinking I'm not a fan of Ron English, you're right. I wasn't impressed with his hiring to begin with, and he's done nothing on or off the field to change that opinion for the better. Performance matters, and 8 FBS wins in 4+ years shouldn't be enough to keep a head coaching job.
Q: What is your take on offensive coordinator Stan Parrish? The former Scarlet Knight assistant head coach spent five seasons at Rutgers from 1990-1995. Is he an asset or a liability for the Eagles?
Hard to tell so far. After two games, the offense under Stan Parrish looks a lot like the offense did under Ken Karcher, which is to say extremely predictable play calling and no downfield passing attack to speak of. I'm not ready to blame Parrish for this, because I think a fairly conservative offense is what English wants; it's hard to account for it any other way at this point.
Q: Who are some players that Rutgers fans should keep an eye on during the game?
On special teams, Tyler Allen is a dangerous returner, and I suspect we'll see him return at least one or two kickoffs for touchdowns this year. Austin Barnes, a true freshman, continues EMU's recent tradition of good punting, which is important because EMU's punters get called on far too often.
Something else to keep an eye on is EMU's field goal unit. They played so poorly against Penn State, that I wouldn't be too surprised if the coaches try Barnes as the kicker, or if they leave the regular offense in on fourth downs in field goal range.
Speaking of the offense, Tyler Benz seems to be a reasonably efficient quarterback who can complete a high percentage of short passes with few or no turnovers. He's periodically shown that he can also go long, but he's rarely called on to do that. Although he's first and foremost a passer, he's got the legs to take advantage if an opportunity to run presents itself. Tight end Tyreese Russell is his top target for those shorter passes. Bronson Hill is the top running back, and although he gashed Toledo for ridiculous yards last year, he's struggled a bit so far this fall. Darius Jackson is every bit as dangerous a running back, and is possibly running better so far this year, but he seems to be stuck behind Hill on the depth chart.
Senior middle linebacker Sean Kurtz is one of the leaders on an EMU defense that seems to be generally improved, but still prone to giving up big plays. What I've seen so far this year is a defense that might hold strong for a while but then things will break down for a play or two and they'll give up half the field in a flash. Other guys to watch on defense might be Cy Maughmer and Pat O'Connor on the defensive line, and outside linebacker Hunter Matt, who scored EMU's only points against Penn State.
So there you have it. I'd like to thank Carter Adler for the great responses to these questions. For more info on Eastern Michigan and the Mid-American Conference, head on over to Hustle Belt.