Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton loves the mindset of the Eagles, knowing his players feel like they not only belong on the same field as Power Five Conference teams, but that they should beat them.
And, that’s what happened Saturday afternoon at Rutgers, when the Eagles defeated the Scarlet Knights, 16-13, for their first victory in school history over a Big Ten team, ending a 0-38 slide.
“It was a big day for us,” Creighton said Monday on the MAC coaches' conference call. “I think one of the takeaways for me was in our locker room afterwards. The guys were definitely happy and celebrating, however there was not a sense that something absolutely crazy had happened. I’ve been in our Eastern Michigan locker room before where it was like euphoria, and it wasn’t that way and I thought that was really telling about our team and the future.
“I’m really proud of them. I felt our defense was phenomenal, had so many three-and-outs and two sudden change situations that they won on and took the ball away twice. Our offense went right down and scored to start the game and set a tone and scored right before half.”
Eastern (2-0) — which earned its first winning season since 1995 last year — will have a bye week, then play host to MAC runnerup Ohio Sept. 23 before playing at Kentucky of the Southeastern Conference Sept. 30.
Eastern junior defensive end Jeremiah Harris (Temperance Bedford) was named MAC West Division Defensive Player of the Week … and he earned it.
Rutgers, trailing 7-3, moved inside Eastern territory early in the second quarter when Harris ended the threat with an interception, helping the Eagles prevent a first down during the entire quarter while the Eagles held a 10-3 halftime lead.
Then, Rutgers scored 10 straight third-quarter points, kicking a field goal to pull within 10-6 and scoring its lone TD for a 13-10 lead, taking advantage of an Eastern turnover before the Eagles answered with a pair of short field goals to reclaim the lead.
Still, Eastern’s defense had to come up with two more big stops, getting an interception from Brody Hoying on a third-and-3 at the Eagles’ 27. Hoying returned it 71 yards to the Rutgers 5, but the Eagles failed to get more points on the board.
Rutgers advanced to the Eastern 25 in the final seconds, but a holding penalty took it out of field goal range and Harris came up with a sack as time expired with the Scarlet Knights running out of timeouts.
“The story for me is the second quarter, and there’s a pretty good wind and we started going with the wind and it was a really quick first quarter,” Creighton said. “The second quarter took forever and we tried to flip the field and had trouble doing so. Our defense in that quarter forced three three-and-outs and got that Jeremiah Harris interception, all in the second quarter, which was just a phenomenal effort.
“And, then you can fast-forward to the end of the game where we intercepted what we all thought was Rutgers last drive, in our end of the field with Brody Hoying’s interception which was returned to the (Rutgers) 5 before they blocked a field goal attempt.
“They raced down the field again and Jeremiah Harris made yet another unbelievable play (sack) and ended the game. It was just an awesome team effort.”
Eastern senior quarterback Brogan Roback threw for 260 yards and a TD, finding nine different receivers.
Western Michigan fans have to be wondering where Jarvion Franklin is.
After all, this is Franklin’s senior season and he is a Walter Camp candidate after earning MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors his freshman year in 2014, rushing for 1,551 yards and a school-record 24 TDs, then for 1,353 yards last season, including a program record 281 against Ohio, helping the Broncos win the MAC title and earn a Cotton Bowl appearance.
Well, Franklin was on the sidelines for the majority of the game in Western’s lackluster 28-14 loss to Michigan State Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
In fact, if not for the spectacular effort from senior cornerback Darius Phillips — three pass break-ups, interception, 67-yard TD fumble return, 100-yard TD kickoff return — the Broncos could have lost by 35-0 or more.
Yes, as well as the Broncos played in their season-opening 49-31 loss at Southern Cal, they played just as bad in their loss at MSU.
And, Franklin had six carries for 36 yards with the Broncos picking up just 116 on the ground (36 attempts).
Just before the start of the season, Western first-year coach Tim Lester said he expected Franklin to have a big year, saying “He’s a guy that you need to give carries to. He has to have touches and the more touches you give him the better player he becomes because he can wear on people like a Bettis and some of the bigger backs.”
Well, Lester stayed away from that philosophy against the Spartans.
When asked if Franklin was hurt, Lester replied: “It was difficult and we didn’t have as many plays as we would like to have had. He’s OK injury-wise. He’s battling a couple of chronic things a little bit and he’s feeling a little bit better every week.
“The hard part for us is just making sure we have all three guys (Franklin, Jamauri Bogan, LeVante Bellemy) getting enough carries to get them going, and because of our push up front we weren’t able to get any of them going”.