Thursday, October 21, 2010

game preview: Eastern Michigan

Date/Time: October 23, 6:00


History against the Eagles: First matchup

Last week: UNC 44, UVA 10; EMU 31, Ball State 28

Line: UVA by 23.5 (!)

Opposing blogs: I very much doubt it

Uniform combination: Don't know. Actually I don't even think London has announced it. Given the assed-out performance of last week, I'd guess they come out in simple blue and white.

Injury report: None, since it's not an ACC game. But you know about Joe Torchia, Tim Smith, and Landon Bradley.

EMU season preview

Last week, the ACC Roundtable asked what games left on the schedule were must-wins. If a game against a horrible team following a three-game losing streak that was punctuated by a five-touchdown loss during Homecoming to a big rival doesn't qualify, nothing does. It's a must-win, a damn-well-better-not-lose, whatever. Eastern is one of the worst defensive teams in the land and has only intercepted two passes all season, a great recipe to get Marc Verica back on track if nothing else.


- Contain Alex Gillett. Most of EMU's offensive talent is contained in their sophomore quarterback. Running back Dwayne Priest would also be one to watch for, but he's missed the last two games with an injury and probably won't play against Virginia. So Gillett it is. There isn't a particular offensive identity at EMU; the Eagles will run what it takes to get yardage, and last week against Ball State that meant 35 carries for Gillett. He's very scrambly. If he's kept in the pocket, Eastern has no run game.

- Quick-strike offense. If the playcalling is bold enough, the chance is there to ensure this game is over by halftime. UVA could grind out a few scores by running the ball - Eastern's allowed 23 rushing TDs, most of any team in the country - but they do have a couple defensive playmakers in the front seven. There's nothing in the defensive backfield, though. This is just the matchup to bring back Verica's confidence, and letting him bomb away and throw a few touchdowns is the way to do it.


- Keep up the breakdowns in the pass coverage. Gillett has a few targets worth keeping an eye on; tight end Ben Thayer was last week's Mackey Award TE of the Week with two TDs against Ball State. And WR Kinsman Thomas is a viable threat. A team that has no run game and no defense is naturally going to want to put it in the air a lot and make a shootout of it. The pass defense has been atrocious of late, with supposedly veteran all-stars making terrible mistakes, and tackling poorly to boot. EMU loves the big play, because they can't put together a lot of smaller positive ones, and it's how they scored more against Ohio State than most of OSU's opponents. It's also how they came back from three touchdowns down to beat Ball State. Eastern will look to find 30, 40, 70 yards at a time. The defense can't allow that the way they have been.

- Mentally. I have no idea what the state of mind of the team would be after a humiliation like that. But they'd better rebound. It's Mike London's first real test as a motivator. EMU doesn't need motivation; the idea of going on a winning streak after breaking an 18-game losing streak should be plenty. The Eagles will be (dreadfully sorry about this) flying high. It's the program's first trip to Virginia, the 1,000th game in EMU history, and they're in a similar rebuilding position, only a year ahead. A couple mental breakdowns early; a close game with a sparse, restless, booing crowd; suddenly you'll have a lot of very, very fired-up men in green and a lot of lost confidence on the good guy sideline, and I don't want to know what happens after that.


Sturm und drang aside, this really should go well. Not for nothing does Sagarin have EMU ranked below 61 I-AA teams, 15 of which have a losing record. This is a very, very bad team, and despite the playmakers scattered thinly around the Eagles' roster, the outcome will depend almost entirely on how few mistakes UVA makes.

It's possible, of course, to have a bad win. That would be one in which the two freshmen QBs, Metheny and Rocco, don't get any field time. (Or get field time because Verica finally fell completely to pieces.) Let's hope we don't see that. But mark my words, it will be a win. Because the alternative is the worst loss in living memory - worse, yes, than William & Mary.


Duke @ Virginia Tech, 12:00
Maryland @ Boston College, 1:00
Georgia Tech @ Clemson, 3:30
North Carolina @ Miami, 7:30

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