Ypsilanti — Eastern Michigan’s football team has lost six straight games, but the Eagles’ goals are still reachable if they snap the skid Thursday night against Ball State at Rynearson Stadium.
EMU's goal coming into the season was winning a bowl game after having its first winning season since 1995 last year, then falling in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl to Old Dominion.
And, it’s not too hard to believe that the Eagles (2-6, 0-4 Mid-American Conference) couldn’t get on a four-game winning streak since they were in contention in all six losses, falling 27-20 in double overtime to Ohio, 24-20 at Kentucky, 20-15 at Toledo, 28-27 at Army, 20-17 in overtime to Western Michigan and then 30-27 in overtime last week at Northern Illinois.
After playing Ball State (2-6, 0-4) — a team that has losses by the scores of 55-3 to Western Michigan, 31-3 to Akron, 56-9 to Central Michigan and 58-17 to Toledo in MAC play — the Eagles will play at CMU (4-4, 2-2) on Nov. 8, at Miami (Ohio) (3-5, 2-2) on Nov. 15 and host Bowling Green (2-7, 2-3) on Nov. 21 in the regular-season finale.
No doubt, no other team in college football is going through such a gut-wrenching losing streak like the Eagles, playing with the premier teams in the MAC, only to come up short by a combined 23 points during the skid.
In fact, the Eagles held a 24-10 lead with 11 minutes remaining at Northern Illinois, only to miss a 42-yard field goal at the end of regulation and come up short in overtime again.
“Of course it’s frustrating just because we’re losing at the end of the game," said Eastern Michigan senior receiver Sergio Bailey, who has 44 receptions for 653 yards and five touchdowns. "But I feel like our team is a family and we have each other’s back and we understand we got a lot of work to do and that it’s still possible. Our goal is still in front of us and our goal is to get to a bowl game and win it.
“We should have, could have, would have, but we literally could be undefeated but we’re not so our backs are against the wall. Still, I feel like this is something we can handle because our program has always had their back against the wall. It’s serious business, but at the same time we want to go out there and have fun and shock the world like we know we can.”
Senior quarterback Brogan Roback has completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 2,079 yards and 11 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He got the Eagles into Toledo territory in the final minutes of that loss, but the threat ended when he threw his second interception of the quarter.
Roback threw for 308 yards against the Broncos, but the Eagles had three turnovers, including an interception at the Western Michigan 27-yard line and a fumble at the WMU 12, and also missed a field goal in overtime.
Roback has shown his athleticism by extending plays with his feet. He has completed passes to as many as 12 different players in a game, many while scrambling.
“It’s really exciting to play in this offense. Brogan knows what he’s doing and you have to be prepared at all times because it could come your way two times in a row or not come to you a few plays,” Bailey said. “Brogan’s an athlete, not just a quarterback back there and sometimes the play dies and he keeps it alive. A lot of our big plays this year, he’s kept it alive and if the play broke down he scrambled and the receivers and quarterback work on that in practice.”
Sophomore safety Brody Hoying is enjoying a strong season, and is tied second nationally in fumble recoveries (three) and seventh in forced fumbles (three).
“I have to give credit to Coach (defensive coordinator Neal) Neathery. He came in and he completely changed all of our defense around, not just him though, (cornerbacks) Coach (Fred) Reed, (defensive line) Coach (Chuck) Bullough and (safeties) Coach (Todd) Frakes, they all work together and all do their different thing,” Hoying said. “Coach Bullough brought in our ball disruption thing where we’re just all over the place getting these turnovers now which we weren’t doing in the past. Give credit to the coaches who are putting us in the right position to make the right plays. It’s stuff we do in practice, so it’s nothing new when we get to the games.”
Eastern Michigan ranks first in the MAC in pass defense (181.6 yards), second in scoring defense (21.1 points) and run defense (174.4 yards), a far cry from two years ago when the Eagles gave up 316.5 yards a game on the ground.
Hoying said the Eagles need to keep playing like they have in the past.
“We could be 6-2 or 7-1 right now, so we’re going to keep doing things we always do and Coach (Chris Creighton) is going to coach us the same way. Only difference is we’re going to get the win,” Hoying said. “We have the potential to win all these games and that’s why we’re not worried because we have four winnable games (left). We lost six really tough ones in a row. Could we have won? Yes, absolutely, probably should have won them. I don’t think we’re really worried at all. It’s frustrating, yes, but our goal is still reachable.
“Coach Creighton has kept us as positive as we can be. We still have four games left and the goal that we had set was to get to a bowl game, win it and we still have four games, which would put us at 6-6 with wins.
“Our defense has played well, our stats are good, keeping our offense in games and stuff like that, but people really don’t know how talented our offense is and I feel like they haven’t peaked yet this season. With these four games to go, once they peak I can’t see anybody beating us the rest of the way.”
Creighton said the Eagles are playing exciting football, but just need to make the critical plays.
“It’s been seven games in a row that have come down to the last play of the game or the last moment,” Creighton said. “We definitely are not, ‘Here we go again.’ There’s not a common threat to the reasons why we’ve lost those close games other than there’s just a series of critical plays and we’ve not been able to make them late in games. The belief factor, up to this point, has not wavered. That’s not been an issue and obviously you have to wonder how long can that last.
“It’s crazy that it’s been seven games in a row and that we’ve lost the last six of them, but we’re not afraid of close games at the end.”
COMING UP SHORT
Eastern Michigan’s games this season decided by seven points or fewer:
■ Sept. 9: 16-13 win at Rutgers — Eagles win, get sack on game’s final play
■ Sept. 23: 27-20 2OT loss to Ohio — Ohio scores on final play in double overtime
■ Sept. 30: 24-20 loss at Kentucky — Eagles intercepted in end zone on final play
■ Oct. 7: 20-15 loss at Toledo — Eagles intercepted on final drive
■ Oct. 14: 28-27 loss at Army — Eagles fail to convert two-point conversion for win
■ Oct. 21: 20-17 OT loss to Western Michigan — Eagles miss field goal in overtime
■ Oct. 26: 30-27 OT loss at Northern Illinois — Eagles make field goal, but gives up winning touchdown in overtime