Defense-minded EMU set to play host to defending MAC champ Ball State

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Eastern Michigan’s defense excelled last Saturday at Rynearson Stadium to lead the Eagles to a 13-12 win over Miami (Ohio).

EMU (4-2, 1-1 MAC West) limited Miami to 126 rushing yards and batted down six passes, including one on fourth down from the Eagles’ 42 in the final minutes to secure the victory.

Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton welcomed a strong defensive effort.

It was the first time EMU didn't allow a touchdown in a Mid-American Conference game since a 19-2 win over Western Michigan on Oct. 27, 2007.

The Eagles are 3-0 at home and will play host to defending MAC champion Ball State this Saturday.

Ball State (3-3, 1-1) has shown why it won the MAC title a year ago and was the preseason favorite to repeat. It dominated the final 15 minutes of a 45-20 comeback win at Western Michigan (4-2, 1-1) last weekend.

The Broncos held a 20-17 lead midway through the third quarter before Ball State’s defense took over. The Cardinals put pressure on WMU quarterback Kaleb Eleby, forcing three turnovers and turning them into 21 points.

Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt threw for 310 yards and four TDs. That included a 75-yard TD strike to Jalen McGaughy (Detroit King) on the game’s first play.

“Drew Plitt is a real good quarterback and he’s surrounded by really good players,” EMU coach Chris Creighton said. “He’s really good at running their offense. He’s very accurate and he has a lot of weapons.

“Not only are they the 2020 MAC champs, but they essentially have their entire team back and that’s the story. They are loaded with red-shirt seniors and seniors. They have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football and last year played at a very high level.”

Ball State’s defense has Creighton's attention as well.

“Western Michigan had done a really nice job all year long with securing the football," Creighton said. "Ball State took the ball away, put pressure on the QB. So their defense did a great job.”

Creighton knows his team will have its work cut out. Miami sacked EMU quarterback Ben Bryant six times and intercepted a pass.

The Eagles benefit from excellent special teams. Chad Ryland kicked two field goals, including a 47-yarder, and Jake Julien averaged 46.1 yards on eight punts, placing two inside the RedHawks’ 20.

Western braces for Kent State

Western Michigan entered its game against Ball State as the lone FBS team in the country without a turnover. The Broncos turned it over four times in the loss to the Cardinals. Eleby was uncharacteristically careless with the football.

WMU, third nationally in time of possession, was brilliant on its first two drives, marching 75 yards and 78 yards, to take a 14-7 lead. Eleby fumbled to end the next threat.

Leading 20-17 in the third quarter, Eleby threw consecutive interceptions, giving Ball State a short field to work with. The Cardinals capitalized with TDs. Another Eleby fumble led to a scoop and score.

This week, WMU faces the MAC’s top quarterback in Kent State senior Dustin Crum.

Kent State (3-3) is 2-0 in the MAC with a 27-20 win over Bowling Green, followed by Saturday’s 48-38 win over defending East champ Buffalo. Crum completed 22-of-36 passes for 407 yards and three TDs without an interception. He ran for 72 yards and two TDs.

Kent State’s losses have come on the road against Texas A&M, Iowa and Maryland.

The Golden Flashes forced two turnovers in the win over Buffalo. WMU coach Tim Lester knows the Broncos have to do a better job of protecting the ball.

“We are not going to beat anyone turning it over four times,” Lester said. “That had been our strength and we didn’t get it done on Saturday.

“I’m super impressed with Crum. His ability to run and throw is special and why they are so successful. It will be a huge challenge for us. Their defense is super athletic and causing all kinds of turnovers. We need to play a great game in all phases.”

Central braces for Toledo

Sophomore running back Lew Nichols III (Detroit Cass Tech) came to the rescue for Central Michigan, rushing for 186 yards and a TD in a 30-27 win at Ohio last Saturday.

CMU (3-3, 1-1) needed a 28-yard TD pass from Daniel Richardson to Kalil Pimpleton with 3:55 left to pull out the win.

The Chippewas will play host to Toledo (3-3, 1-1) this Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

Toledo lost 22-20 to Northern Illinois when John Richardson kicked a 29-yard field goal with 26 seconds left.

Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn (Detroit King) had given the Rockets a 20-19 lead with an 11-yard TD pass to Devin Maddox, completing a 75-yard drive with 3:35 left.

CMU has been at its best when it gets its running game going with Nichols (591 yards) well on his way to a 1,000-yard season.

Toledo gave up 242 rushing yards in its loss to Northern Illinois.