Eastern Michigan squares off with rival Western Michigan in final road contest of the season
“The positive of our team is that our guys continue to show up and improve. Our guys are fighting and showing up and competing,” English said in his weekly teleconference.
The Eagles look to continue that improvement Saturday when they travel to Kalamazoo to face in-state MAC rival Western Michigan (4-7, 3-5) at Waldo Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.
While neither team has a chance at a bowl game, both schools have something to play for Saturday as the winner will take home the Michigan MAC Trophy given to the MAC team that goes unbeaten against their in-state rivals each year. EMU is 0-1, Central Michigan is 1-1 and WMU is 1-0.
If the Eagles win Saturday they will retain possession of the trophy for another year, having won the trophy last year.
WMU head coach Bill Cubit says his team has some extra motivation heading into Saturday’s contest despite having just four wins on the season.
“We got a chance to get back the Michigan trophy, that’s all we’re playing for, we got one game left and we got to go out there with a bang. It should be a heck of a game,” Cubit said. “It’s a pretty heated game, it’s a Michigan MAC game and this is our last one.
“This will be senior day for us and a lot of our kids want to go out on a good note there. We need to go out there and this is kind of like our bowl game, we got nothing left except for this game here.”
After a disappointing loss to CMU last week, English and his team are hoping to rebound after giving away a double-digit second-half lead.
In that loss, senior Alex Gillett sparked the offense with 250 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. Gillett started the second half at quarterback for EMU, marking his first significant amount of time at quarterback since the Purdue game on September 15. Sophomore Tyler Benz has started seven straight games in place of Gillett.
“He’s just been a man of great character in the sense that we made a quarterback change and he did not become a cancer,” English said about Gillett. “He did not get down on himself or the team. He just continued to prepare, we played him at wide receiver. The second half we played him at quarterback and he did a nice job running the offense.
“I just appreciate him, he’s been a joy to coach, he’s a true competitor, he’s a captain on our football team and he’s had good career here in the Mid American Conference.”
It is unclear whether or not Gillett will see as much time at quarterback this week or not. But for Cubit and his team, the biggest challenge is stopping the Eagles comes from a different area.
“The biggest thing is stopping the run game. They do a really good job schematically on offense,” Cubit said.
As for the Eagles, they are preparing to deal with a formidable Broncos passing attack. Led by senior quarterback Alex Carder, the Broncos will test the Eagle defense early and often Saturday.
“They’ve got their senior quarterback (Carder) playing again and as we all know he’s done a great job, he’s had a great career,” English said. “They understand how to throw the football. They have some length at the receiver position and they have two quarterbacks that can play.”
Carder missed six weeks of the season with a broken finger on his throwing hand and had mixed results, throwing for 275 yards and three touchdowns to go along with four interceptions in a 29-24 loss to Buffalo.
Limiting Carder’s effectiveness will surely go a long way to helping English and his team retain possession of the Michigan MAC Trophy, but English knows that whether they stop Carder or not, Saturday’s match up will be a fight.
“To me the rivalry games are very important and I’m excited to compete in this one,” English said.
Matt Durr covers sports for Annarbor.com. You can email him at email@example.com or follow him on twitter @mdurr84