Near-miss against Northwestern means little to Eastern Michigan football coach Ron English
So when it comes to carrying positives out of Eastern Michigan's 27-24 loss at Northwestern heading into Saturday's trip to No. 25 Michigan, English focuses on the task at hand.
In reality, Eastern Michigan is 0-2 and is winless in 26 meetings with Big Ten opponents - including eight consecutive losses to the Wolverines.
The Eagles' latest brush with the Big Ten proved to interesting. After trailing 21-3 at halftime, the Eagles tied the game at 24-24 on Terrence Blevins' 2-yard touchdown run with 2:40 remaining. Northwestern pulled the win out when Stefan Demos kicked a 49-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining.
English said it's worthless to speculate on what could have happened if the Eagles could have pushed the game into overtime.
"We had all the momentum and everything going for us," English said on Monday. "And we're not good enough right now not to take advantage of opportunities."
English focused Monday on the errors that have carried over from practice to game day. The Eagles committed eight penalties and quarterback Andy Schmitt threw two interceptions. And while allowing only one big play against Northwestern, Eastern Michigan's defense isn't free from mistake-making.
"It's all relative to me -Â how good is the team that you're playing?" English said. "I'm not saying Northwestern isn't a good team, but to me it's how teams play on that particular day. And on that particular day, if you saw the game ...
"To me, you either won or you lost. People use the 'slip away' cliches and all that. To me, it's you either won or you didn't win. That's the deal."
Now, English faces Michigan (noon, Big Ten Network), where he served as the defensive coordinator under former coach Lloyd Carr. And despite the Wolverines' 3-9 finish last season and the uncertainly that faced Michigan only a few weeks ago, English knows what kind of challenge his team faces.
His defense must deal with an offense engineered by freshman quarterback Tate Forcier, who led the Wolverines on a game-winning drive against Notre Dame and whose composure impresses English.
The Eagles defensive line will face a Michigan offensive front with a noticeable size difference and must try and contain a healthy Brandon Minor, who rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown in his first action of the season.
And the Eagles must do so in a Michigan Stadium environment that English is familiar with and one that tends to be a distraction for players not used to competing in front of 110,000 fans on a regular basis.
Combine all that with the fact that the Eagles have started slow in back-to-back games, falling behind Army 27-7 in the opener and giving Northwestern a three-touchdown cushion early Saturday and the Eagles must remain focused on daily improvement.
The obstacle only gets bigger against the Wolverines, who grabbed the final spot in the Top 25 after Saturday's 38-34 upset of No. 18 Notre Dame.
"We're going to play a very talented Michigan team," English said. "And the issue is going to be can we hang in there because they're going to be throwing punches, and we better be throwing punches."
Although English doesn't put much into taking Northwestern to the final seconds of the fourth quarter, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez won't allow his team to take Eastern Michigan lightly.
The Wolverines registered a 33-22 win over the Eagles in the last meeting between the two schools in 2007. Michigan is 25-1 all-time against the Mid-American Conference, with the lone loss coming last season when Toledo stunned the Wolverines at Michigan Stadium.
Rodriguez doesn't expect Eastern Michigan to be a pushover.
"Sometimes, even when you lose a game like they did in a tough one at Northwestern on the road, you're going to get a little more confidence," Rodriguez said Monday. "I think they'll have a little more confidence.
"(Schmitt) is a veteran guy, and anytime you have a veteran quarterback that has played in big games and has had some success, it gives you a shot ... and we're going to get their best effort from the first snap to the last."
Jeff Arnold covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at 734-623-2554 or firstname.lastname@example.org