Power Rankings: EMU Defense Isn’t Getting Better

Just last year, Eastern Michigan’s defense was really impressive.

Just last year, Central Michigan had the worst offense in the country.

Yesterday, CMU spanked the Eagles 42-16 in what we finally have as Jim McElwain’s first statement win in his time as the Chippewa head coach. CMU’s already had a big home win over Akron in early MAC-crossover game and even though Akron was in the MAC title game only two seasons ago, it’s no secret that EMU’s a better measuring stick for success right now. Akron’s maybe the worst team in the country, or at least it’s up there.

(Or is it down there?)

EMU’s defense has been a staple ever since Neal Neathery was hired out of UTSA, and was a big reason the Eagles got to two bowl games in three years. Even without Maxx Crosby, Jeremiah Harris, and Kyle Rachwal, this unit seemed like it was still standing on strong legs. That just hasn’t been the case this year.

Eastern Michigan defensive stats

2017 2018 2019
Def. S&P+/SP+ rank 60 52 126
Total def. (YPG) 363.6 353.8 447.2
Scoring def. (PPG) 23.3 22.1 32.6
Yards per play 5.34 4.99 6.37
TFL per game (total) 5.83 (70) 5.85 (76) 3.8 (19)
Opp. 3rd down% 36.78% 37.50% 44.29%

Stats via Football Outsiders & ESPN (for S&P+/SP+) and cfbstats.com (everything else). 

CMU saw where EMU was vulnerable and picked the Eagles apart. Offensively, get behind the safeties. EMU’s shown enough film this year to show that safety coverage has allowed a lot of yards (and points) by not covering the deep third of the field. CMU’s scoring plays of note: 80-yard catch from Kalil Pimpleton, a 64-yard catch from Jonathan Ward, a 28-yard run by Kobe Lewis, and an 86-yard run by Ward.

CMU’s defense got the pressure it wanted on quarterback Mike Glass, and have the secondary play tight and disciplined in coverage. Force enough incompletions to make EMU run the ball (something it’s simply not good at).

These power rankings are definitely going to change again between now and next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, all the way to the end of the season. That in mind, I moved CMU all the way up from 10 to 3 on this list. CMU has not had the third-best season of all the MAC teams, but Saturday’s win deserves some sort of shock value.

MAC Prospectus Power Rankings (thru Week 6)

1. Toledo

2. WMU

3. CMU (last week: 10)

4. Ball State (last week: 6)

5. Ohio

6. EMU (last week: 3)

7. Miami

8. Buffalo

9. NIU (last week: 4)

10. Kent State (last week: 9)

11. BGSU

12. Akron

Previous rankings thru: Week 0 | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 |

1. Toledo (4-1, 1-0 MAC)

Last week: Won 31-24 vs. WMU

In the Top-2 MAC Game of the Week (if this blog has anything to say about that), Toledo’s defense stopped the MAC’s other best offense in the league. WMU was the MAC’s leader in points per drive at 0.33 (note: this stat doesn’t include FCS games), which meant that the Rocket defense would be in for a fight, even if its defense just held BYU to 21 points the week before.

Toledo’s defense suffocated Wassink. That quarterback was only 25 of 51 for 303 yards (49%, 5.9 yards per attempt) with two scores and one interception. He was also brought down five times, officially hurried thrice, and 12 passes were broken up with too many at/near the line of scrimmage.

Two Toledo names I just want to throw at you:

  • DE Terrance Taylor — Taylor’s recruiting story involves Toledo and Western Michigan. The two MAC schools that are always atop the recruiting rankings were in a battle that led to Taylor flipping his commitment from Toledo to WMU, then back to Toledo again, and of course this was one of those singing-day-deadline races. It was worth it, and two years later, Taylor had a big day with two sacks against WMU, and four total tackles. For the season, the sophomore’s got three sacks with 4.5 total tackles for loss. Taylor made 16 total tackles all last year with playing time in every game, and now he’s up to 11 through the whole season this year. He’s still not starting, but he’s definitely been a great part of Toledo’s rotation and will be a defensive end that you’ll have to keep an eye on for the next 2.5 years.
  • CB Samuel Womack — Womack’s having a breakout season with 11 pass breakups and 25 total tackles in his first season as a starter. Against WMU, the breakout star recorded three pass breakups.

2. Western Michigan (3-3, 1-1 MAC)

Last week: Lost 31-24 at Toledo

Even though WMU lost, I can’t move them down at all this week. The Broncos are still really talented and I doubt Wassink will have another inefficient game this year. Or at least his next bad game can’t be much worse than that.

The rest of the MAC West is shifting, which is to say that WMU could win the rest of its divisional games this year, but that’s also to say that Toledo could run the table in MAC play, too.

3. Central Michigan (3-3, 2-1 MAC)

Last week: Won 42-16 vs. EMU

Breaking news before this post went live: QB David Moore is suspended by the NCAA for banned substance use. CMU’s fighting the situation:

Moore, junior transfer from Memphis, played in six games this year and started four games while Quinten Dormady was recovering from his injury, was 94 of 164 passing this season (57.3%) for 1,1143 yards (7.0 Y/A) with five touchdowns and four interceptions.

Dormady’s back practicing after a knee injury taken in Wisconsin, so it’d make sense if he was back to the starter this week against New Mexico State.

4. Ball State (2-3, 1-0 MAC)

Last week: Won 27-20 at NIU

Here’s a list of all of Mike Neu’s [FBS] wins as the Ball State head coach:

  1. 9/2/16- 31-21 at Georgia State
  2. 9/24/16- 31-27 at FAU
  3. 10/15/16- 31-21 at Buffalo
  4. 9/9/17- 51-31 at UAB
  5. 9/29/18- 52-24 vs. Kent State
  6. 10/13/18- 24-23 at CMU
  7. 11/13/18- 42-41 (OT) vs. WMU
  8. 10/5/19- 27-20 at NIU

Neu, in his fourth year as the head coach for his alma mater, finally got the big win he needed to have on his record no matter when, no matter how. Somehow, his quarterback — the position Neu played and coached at the pro level — had 34 passing yards. Not pass attempts, passing yards. And they did it on the road. And they did it against NIU of all teams, a team that the Cardinals haven’t beaten since 2008, and it’s the first time the Bronze Stalk trophy has stayed in Muncie, Ind. since then.

An impressive win for Ball State for street credibility alone. NIU’s not as good as it should be, but Ball State finally grinded out the win it has been longing for.

5. Ohio (2-3, 1-0)

Last week: Won 21-20 at Buffalo (OT)

Narrowly escaping Buffalo thanks to a missed PAT in overtime? This is the result of a team that was picked as the overwhelming favorite to best the conference?

  • Among MAC teams, Ohio’s fifth in scoring offense (25.6 ppg), second in scoring defense (27.6 ppg), and leads the league on third downs (46.97%).
  • Nathan Rourke’s rushing average last year: 6.4 yards a clip. This year: 4.7.
  • Nathan Rourke’s yards per attempt average last year: 8.9. This year: 7.7.
  • True freshman Shane Hooks is leading Ohio’s receivers group: eight catches, 191 yards (23.9 rec. yards per game). Sophomore Isiah Cox leads the team with 13 catches.
  • Ohio and Akron are tied for a MAC-worst -7 on the turnover margin this year (three gains, 10 losses). The offense has definitely lost some explosion since last year, but this is probably a more worrisome stat.

6. Eastern Michigan (3-2, 0-1 MAC)

Last week: Lost 42-16 at CMU

EMU’s defense has been ick, but the offense didn’t do its job either. CMU knew that making EMU’s offense one-dimensional would create problems, and it did. EMU’s still got an issue with being poor at running the ball (team 3.16 yards per carry).

The rest of the season looks bleak if this is the way EMU’s going to keep playing this season. EMU could still very well make a bowl game, but it won’t be easy if there aren’t any in-season improvements being made on this team.

7. Miami (2-3, 1-0 MAC)

Last week: bye

8. Buffalo (2-4, 0-2 MAC)

Last week: Lost 21-20 vs. Ohio (OT)

Buffalo lost to LIberty by two touchdowns a few weeks ago and is somehow still having a better time this year than Northern Illinois is.

Sure, the Bulls just lost by one in overtime at home to Ohio, and sure Buffalo fans aren’t having the time of their lives with the confusion this team has put on them, but it’s also nice to say that it took the preseason favorites all the way to the end.

9. Northern Illinois (1-4, 0-1 MAC)

Last week: Lost 27-20 vs. Ball State

The second half of NIU’s meltdown at home against Ball State is probably going to live with NIU fans longer than they’d like it to. NIU had a 17-3 lead at the half, then the Cardinals forced Tre Harbison to fumble the ball inside NIU’s five-yard line to help Ball State score twice within a minute, midway through the third quarter. That was the second of five scores Ball State would have before NIU’s John Richardson made his second field goal of the game.

It just hasn’t been a good first-half of the year with Thomas Hammock as the head coach for his school. There are entire-half lapses by the entire operation week after week, and the one win NIU does have this season had to be a comeback nail-biter against an FCS squad.

As it turns out, coaches have freshman seasons too.

10. Kent State (2-3, 1-0 MAC)

Last week: Lost 48-0 at Wisconsin

11. Bowling Green (1-4, 0-1 MAC)

Last week: Lost 52-0 at Notre Dame

SP+ says that I have BG ranked too highly here. That’s probably fair.

12. Akron (0-5, 0-1 MAC)

Last week: bye

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