Before every game, I ask a reporter who covers the Gophers upcoming opponent to give us a view from the opponent’s perspective.
I asked Blake McQueary from The Eastern Echo six questions about the Eastern Michigan Eagles
Eastern Michigan travels to Minneapolis on September 9th to take on Gophers at 6:30 pm.
Huge thanks to Blake for giving us his thoughts!
Follow Luke on Twitter: @b_mcqueary6
Follow Noel on Twitter: @n0elthompson
1. Eastern Michigan finished the 2022 season with one of its best seasons in program history, with an overall record of 9-4 and a 5-3 record in conference play. Head coach Chris Creighton is now in his 10th year at the helm. What are the expectations of the Eagles for this year? Where do they stack up in the Mid-American Conference?
I believe the expectations this year for this Eastern Michigan team are nothing less than a MAC championship. Last year they fell just short of that championship berth with a heartbreaking loss to Toledo, and from what I’ve been told by the players, that loss stung and is still on their minds coming into this season. Personally, I believe the expectation should just be winning, and then everything else will fall into place, as a MAC Championship hasn’t been brought to Ypsilanti since 1987. Is this team capable of winning the MAC? They 100% are, and I have a really good feeling about it this year, no doubt. With that being said, this EMU team stacks up very well against other MAC opponents. We’ve returned numerous starters on offense and defense, with the only key losses really being Jose Ramirez and Sidy Sow. We just have to beat Toledo.
2. The Eagles are coming off a 33-23 victory in week one against Howard. What went right for Eastern Michigan last week? What went wrong?
If you watched the game or paid attention to what happened in EMU’s win over Howard, you absolutely know that our special teams are up there with the best in the country. Along with that, Jaylon Jackson just very well might be the best returner in all of college football. EMU scored twice off of returned kicks, one of those being Jackson, and I’m telling you, there’s going to be plenty more to come. What also stood out to me was the resilience of our defense in not allowing Howard to get into the end zone as much as they should have. Howard had 100+ more yards of total offense than we did, which is the first thing I wasn’t pleased with, but it gives me a sense of balance knowing that they outplayed us on the offensive end but our defense only allowed two touchdowns despite giving up nearly 400 total yards. Now, what I didn’t really like in that game was our second-half fatigue. EMU went into halftime with a 30-9 lead and then gave up 14 unanswered points in the third quarter. We just have to do a better job of executing in all aspects of the game in the second half, because now is when the real football starts.
3. The offense returns a star in running back Samson Evans, who ran for 1,166 yards and five touchdowns last year. Can you tell Gophers fans more about Samson Evans? What makes him a dangerous runner for the Eagles?
Samson Evans is just straight-up an absolute dawg. He’s one of those hard-nosed, gritty, and tough backs that you are going to have a hard time trying to bring to the ground. You’re rarely going to see Samson make a flashy, juke play with the ball, but you are going to see him run through a few people and make a whole lot more people miss some tackles. He’s just one of those guys who is a pound-for-pound back that will make it very difficult for the opposing guys on the other side of him. Probably my favorite thing about Samson is that, whether it’s good or bad, he doesn’t care about any outside noise or what you think of him; he actually just deactivated his social media prior to the season because of all of the noise and love surrounding him heading into this year. He just wants to win football games and will do whatever it takes to achieve those wins.
4. For the defense, they will be without MAC Defensive Player of the Year Jose Ramirez, who is off to the NFL. What would you consider the strength of the Eagles defense? Is there a position group that concerns you?
Losing Jose Ramirez is a drastic loss for this Eagles defense, and it’s basically almost irreplaceable due to what he did at EMU. Jose’s a one-of-a-kind guy. With that being said, I believe this defense has only gotten better and more experienced. Our defensive front is absolutely stacked with guys like Peyton Price, Tim Grant-Randall, and Melvin Swindle II; our linebacker room is outstanding with Joe Sparacio, Chase Kline, and even Luke Cameron; and our secondary is second to none with Kempton Shine, Quentavius Scrandett, T.J Peavy, Cameron Smith, David Carter Jr., even true freshman Daiquan White. We’ve got some dawgs on that end, and I can’t wait to see them maximize their potential. My only concern with this group, like I said, is getting too comfortable in the second half, they just have to stay the course, play a full two halves of football, and they will be lights out.
5. Eastern Michigan’s special teams returned two kickoffs last week for touchdowns. The Eagles seem to have playmakers in all three phases. Could you give us a few impact players that Minnesota fans should know about heading into Saturday?
Like I said, our special teams is one of the best in the country, and kick returner Jaylon Jackson has shown me he’s the best in the nation, so he’s first on the list as far as impact players. A First-Team All-MAC selection for kick returning a season ago, he’s got lightning speed, his cuts are clean and crisp, and if you blink too hard you might miss him. He only stands 5-foot-6 at 168 pounds, but I’m telling you he could care less who you have on the other side because he’s going to meet you in the endzone. Another guy I love to rave about is Third Team All-MAC wideout, Tanner Knue. Knue is one of the best pass catchers and route runners in the MAC, he rarely drops the ball, and his route running is very clean. He’s one of those guys that opposing teams would overlook, but he will quickly make you aware of his talent. At the end of the day, Knue is going to get his. Last but not least, when we talk about major impact players of a game, defensive lineman Peyton Price has to be on the list. Listed at 6-foot-2, 300 pounds, Price is a guy that can erupt your run game and clog the front, making it very challenging for opposing backs. I’m expecting a huge year this season from Peyton Price.
6. The Eagles head into Minneapolis for a night game against the Gophers. Minnesota is coming off an exciting win against Nebraska. Minnesota is currently a 20-point favorite against Eastern Michigan. What do the Eagles need to do to pull off an upset over Minnesota? What is your prediction for the game?
I liked the Gophers’ win against Nebraska last week, but it wasn’t really impressive to me and showed me that EMU can beat this team. I think what we need to do first in order to win is execute our running game to our best capabilities. Minnesota gave up 181 rushing yards to Nebraska last week, and if that happens once again, it might be a very long night for the Gophers. Second, EMU has to use its offensive weapons effectively and efficiently. And I say effectively and efficiently because anytime you play a power five school, a Big Ten team at that, there is very little room for error. I think the last thing is just not getting overconfident and playing a full two halves of football. EMU can’t afford to build a lead heading into halftime and then coming out in the second half on cruise control, not against a Big Ten team, we have to play 100% until the last whistle. If we were to repeat last week’s game against Howard, the second half will be much more different, and Minnesota will win big. With that being said, I truly believe the Eagles can walk out of TCF Bank Stadium victorious. 30-24, EMU.