MAC notebook: Eastern Michigan will try to rekindle Big Ten magic vs. Wisconsin

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Eastern Michigan had a successful season opener Friday night, taking care of business against FCS opponent Saint Francis with a 35-15 victory at Rynearson Stadium.

The Eagles took a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, taking advantage of two turnovers by turning them into 14 points.

Eastern Michigan quarterback Preston Hutchinson, shown here in 2019, was one of two EMU quarterbacks who saw action in the Eagles' season opener.

And, EMU veteran coach Chris Creighton, who last week received a contract extension through the 2025 season, had a chance to see holdover quarterback Preston Hutchinson, along with Ben Bryant, a transfer from Cincinnati who originally committed to Wisconsin.

Bryant and the Eagles will be traveling to Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday night to play Wisconsin.

While Bryant had a strong performance (8-of-10 passing, 126 yards), splitting time with Hutchinson (7-of-12, 63 yards, one interception), Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz (22-of-37, 185 yards) didn’t fare nearly as well in the No. 12 Badgers’ 16-10 loss to No. 19 Penn State, throwing a pair of interceptions in the final 2½ minutes, the first one coming after they reached the Penn State 1, the second after they reached the Penn State 26 in the final minute.

The Eagles will be in search of their fourth win over a Big Ten team in the last five years, defeating Rutgers in 2017, Purdue in 2018 and Illinois in 2019 with Chad Ryland kicking game-winning field goals on the final play against Purdue and Illinois.

“I can’t compare Wisconsin to playing Rutgers in 2017 or Purdue in 2018 or Illinois in 2019, all of the scenarios, situations and programs, all of those things are different,” Creighton said. “This is the best football team that I’ll ever coach against in my entire life, and certainly in these last eight years at Eastern Michigan, these guys are phenomenal. They’ve been great for over a decade.

“I thought they outplayed Penn State, didn’t win the game and had some situations that they wished they could have back I’m sure, but when you look at the totality of the game I thought that they were the better team.”

Wisconsin limited Penn State to 297 total yards, just 50 on the ground for 2.8 yards a carry.

Darius Boone rushed for 107 yards on 22 carries and a TD for EMU, while Jawon Hamilton had 64 yards on 15 carries and a TD and Samson Evans scored touchdowns on three of his five carries as the Eagles rushed for 221 yards.

“Boone, when he was healthy last year, he played well and we ran the ball well,” Creighton said. “He’s a powerful back and he’s had his best offseason for sure, elevated his game. He just got more serious about his body and getting better.

“Samson only got to play sparingly last year due to injuries, and so he’s really healthy now and we like him on third downs. He’s a bruising running back, and you saw him in short yardage and goal line situations. Juwan is lighting in a bottle, very explosive, like how hard he ran the ball and we’re really excited abut what he brings to the table for the season.”

And, on his quarterbacks?

“We tried to take what they gave us, I think it was 39 plays to 42, pretty evened out and I think they both have their strength that are both going to serve our team well,” said Creighton, noting he won’t name a starter for the Wisconsin game until later in the week.

Chips look to rebound

Central Michigan proved to be competitive Saturday afternoon in its 34-24 road loss to Missouri of the SEC.

With CMU third-year head coach Jim McElwain sidelined after surgery for appendicitis, assistant coach Tim Skipper guided the Chippewas to a 14-7 lead in the second quarter before they gave up 17 straight points to trail 24-14. JaCorey Sullivan’s 6-yard TD reception from Daniel Richardson early in the fourth quarter pulled CMU within 24-21.

CMU lost standout running back Kobe Lewis to a knee injury in late August, but Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year Lew Nichols (Detroit Cass Tech) showed he is one of the best backs in the conference, rushing for 135 yards (19 carries) and a TD as the Chippewas piled up 174 yards on the ground.

The TD pass by Richardson was his lone toss with 6-foot-5 sophomore Jacob Sirmon hitting on 23-of-45 for 295 yards and a TD with two interceptions. Sirmon was ranked by ESPN as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the nation before picking Washington where he redshirted in 2018, played in five games in 2019 and just one game last season for the Huskies before transferring to CMU.

CMU’s defense will have to tighten up when it plays host to Robert Morris on Saturday after allowing 468 total yards, 5.9 yards a carry (36-211) while not forcing a turnover against the Tigers.

Robert Morris’ opener against Dayton was canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the Robert Morris’ program.

Broncos looking for more offense

Western Michigan will be looking to put more points on the board in its home opener at Waldo Stadium Saturday afternoon against Illinois State after suffering a 47-14 loss to the Wolverines at the Big House.

The Broncos pulled even at 7 in the opening quarter when junior quarterback Kaleb Eleby took advantage of a Michigan unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on third down to extend the drive, finding Jaylen Hall for 29 yards and Sean Tyler for 20 to set up La’Darius Jefferson’s 2-yard TD run.

Trailing 10-7, the Broncos had two opportunities to pull even or take the lead but failed each time.

Eleby directed a 10-play, 51-yard drive from the WMU 10 to Michigan’s 42 on completions of 13 yards to Corey Crooms and 22 yards to Skyy Moore, only to have the drive stall at the 39, forcing a punt.

Then, WMU had its third drive start at the Broncos’ 46, only to go three and out with Tyler stuffed for a 3-yard loss on a third-and-2 from the Michigan’ 46.

Eleby was 20-of-37 for 191 yards and had several passes dropped. The Broncos had 310 yards, didn’t turn the ball over and gave up just one sack, but WMU’s defense gave up 551 total yards and 40 straight points, turning the early deadlock into a 47-7 Michigan fourth-quarter lead.

Illinois State defeated Butler 49-7, turning a pair of interceptions into 14 points and piling up 294 yards on the ground with Cole Mueller leading the way with 111 yards and two TDs.

Illinois State’s season was canceled last year due to the pandemic. In 2019, Illinois State finished 10-5, reaching the FCS quarterfinals, a tough 9-3 loss to No. 1 North Dakota State.

david.goricki@detroitnews.com