Eastern Michigan joined Western Michigan as bowl eligible teams with a dominating 27-7 win over Akron Saturday afternoon at Rynearson Stadium.
But, Western second-year head coach Tim Lester knows well that bowl eligible doesn’t necessarily mean your team will be competing in a bowl game. The Broncos were one of two teams to be sitting home with 6-6 records last season, a year after they won the MAC championship and played in the Cotton Bowl.
The Broncos and Eagles will both be looking for a seventh win to guarantee them a spot in a bowl game during the holiday season.
Eastern had 20 consecutive non-winning seasons before earning its first winning season since 1995 in 2016 when the Eagles finished 7-6, losing to Old Dominion in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.
Now Eastern (6-5, 4-3) has a chance to earn their second winning season in three years when they close out the regular season Nov. 23 at Kent State (1-8, 1-5).
The Eagles have a bye week which head coach Chris Creighton more than likely would have loved to toss aside and play this weekend.
After all, Eastern has won four of five, including two straight and its defense is playing as well, if not better, than any team in the MAC.
Following a 17-7 win over Central Michigan when the Eagles’ defense gave up just 138 total yards while forcing four turnovers and not allowing a single point — Central scored on a 68-yard fumble return — the Eagles were even better against MAC East defending champion Akron, giving up just 90 total yards and six first downs while forcing four more turnovers. Akron scored on a punt return.
How impressive was Eastern’s defense? Well, the Eagles forced Akron into 10 three-and-outs with junior defensive end Maxx Crosby continuing to show why he is considered one of the nation’s premier players on defense, scoring on a Pick 6 while also getting in on three TFL, including a sack.
“It was the second week in a row where it’s hard for me not to tell you how impressed I was with the play of our defense, just another dominant performance and consistent all the way throughout,” praised Creighton of his defense. “We were 11-for-11 on stop downs and took the ball away four times and held them to less than 100 yards and that doesn’t happen very often. For it to be back-to-back shutouts by our defense in back-to-back MAC games, just great, great performance by our defense.”
Don’t be surprised if Creighton’s name is mentioned in the weeks ahead with job openings at such places as Louisville and Kansas and more than likely Illinois with athletic directors knowing just how difficult it has been in past decades to win in Ypsilanti.
Western’s bowl chances
Western (6-4, 4-2) has a golden opportunity Tuesday night to earn that seventh win when it plays at Ball State (3-7, 2-4). The Cardinals have lost three straight, giving up an average of 46 points. Their lone win in the last five games was a 24-23 win over a Central Michigan team that is still searching for its first win of the season against an FBS team.
Western was in control of its own destiny while riding a six-game winning streak and owning a 4-0 conference record, but then junior quarterback Jon Wassink went down with a foot injury in the first quarter of a 51-24 home loss to Toledo, followed by another home loss to Ohio, 59-14 when it trailed 45-0 at halftime.
Western had a bye last week and Lester worked with true freshman quarterback Kaleb Eleby who had half of the Broncos’ six turnovers with two interceptions and a fumble in the loss to Ohio.
“We had a little time to rest,” pointed out Lester of the bye week. “We went 10 games in less than 10 weeks coming right out of training camps so it was nice to give them a couple of days off, a weekend off and get one or one and a half young practices where the young kids got to go and obviously in those young practices we still got to play some of those freshmen who are playing so they got some extra reps in.”
No doubt, the extra reps will help Eleby going forward. True freshman receiver Jayden Reed has 46 receptions for 667 yards and eight TDs.
“We have to run the ball, control the clock and can’t turn the ball over,” said Lester of the Broncos’ recipe for success heading into the Ball State game. “We’ve been good all year until last game when we had six (turnovers). We were plus-four or five on the year in nine games and then in one game we turned it over six times and got behind so fast the game was over before we knew it.
“We have to take care of the ball, find a running game on offense and then on defense keep it in front of them. They’ve been able to move the ball well so we can’t give up the big play. We just have to get back to playing good, solid football and find a way to get our playmakers the ball and let them play.”
And, on Eleby, Lester replied: “We’ve had a rough two weeks losing Jon on the third play of the Toledo game. I liked how our team was playing at that point, then you lose a key piece and you’re just trying to find out who you are on offense at that point and we haven’t done a good job in the last two weeks. We have to play better and we know we can.
Central: No MAC wins
Central has never gone winless in MAC play since joining the league back in 1975 or the year after winning the Division 2 national championship.
The Chippewas (1-10, 0-7) have just one more chance to get that elusive win and it won’t be easy since it will be at Toledo in the season finale Nov. 23. Toledo has won eight straight in the series.
Central’s lone win came against FCS Maine back on Sept. 22. The Chippewas suffered their seventh straight loss Saturday against Bowling Green (2-8, 1-6), 24-13 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
The Chippewas picked up just 166 total yards and freshman Austin Hergott made his debut, completing 11-of-21 for 94 yards with a TD pass and interception. Central was limited to 72 rushing yards (29 carries).
“We were clearly outcoached, especially in the second half and that’s not easy to say that, but you have to be able to point thumbs, not just fingers in this business in order to get better,” noted Central coach John Bonamego. “I’m encouraged by what I saw out of Austin. I thought he showed a lot of good things, made some bad plays too, but overall more good.”
Miami of Ohio and Northern Illinois will be playing for the Mallory Cup which was put in place this season following the death of Bill Mallory, who had guided each school to a Mid-American Conference title.
Mallory guided Miami to an 11-0 season back in 1973 with a Tangerine Bowl win over Florida, finishing No. 15 in the final Associated Press rankings.
Mallory moved on to Colorado where he guided the Buffaloes to an Orange Bowl appearance in 1976 and a No. 16 ranking before leading Northern Illinois to a 10-2 record in ’83 with a California bowl win.
Mallory coached at Indiana for 13 years and was the last Indiana coach to have beaten Ohio State and Michigan in the same year in the late ‘80s with Dearborn Heights native Pete Stoyanovich as the team’s kicker.