Eastern Michigan falls to FCS (formerly Division I-AA) opponent Illinois State 31-14 in home opener
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
“What we have right now is a team that I think thought they were better than they were. We played two really good football teams,” said head coach Ron English. “This team reminds me of the ’07 Michigan team. We’re fighting each other and fighting the coaches. Right now we’re not a good football team.”
The Eagles had five turnovers on the day to go along with nine penalties for 69 yards and a blocked field goal.
For the second consecutive week, the Eagles saw the game slip away in the third quarter as the offense struggled to move the ball
“So far this year we haven’t proven we can run the ball,” English said. “People are loading up the box and forcing us to throw it.”
The Eagles gained just 103 yards on 32 rushing attempts Saturday. After averaging 218.3 yards per game last season, good for 14th in the nation, the Eagles have yet to find their groove on the ground this season.
“We don’t block anybody, we don’t knock anybody off the ball,” English said. “We’re just not physical enough right now. We’re really getting pushed around if you look at the first two games.”
The Eagles managed only one first down in the third quarter and just 11 on the day. The Eagles went three-and-out on their first four drives of the second half.
ISU opened the scoring on a 58-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Miller in the first quarter. After stopping the Redbirds on third down, the Eagles were called for a personal foul on the ensuing punt, giving ISU a first down.
Three plays later, Miller broke free for the score.
“On fourth down, when you get a penalty when they’re punting the ball, that’s a turnover,” English said. “
Three first half turnovers nearly spelled disaster for the Eagles (0-2, 1-0 MAC) who twice coughed up the ball in their own territory. The EMU defense however was able to limit ISU to just three points off turnovers in the half.
“I thought they did a nice job in that they really fought. They were put in some very bad situations in both halves,” English said. “I was proud of some of the things the defense did today.”
After falling behind 10-0 early in the second quarter, EMU scored on two of its next three drives and took a 14-10 lead into the break.
“We got to finish games and we’re hurting ourselves,” English said.
The Redbirds (2-0) scored on their first two drives of the half to push the lead to 24-14. As the EMU offense struggled, ISU was able to control the clock, holding on to the ball for nearly 22 minutes in the second half.
EMU senior quarterback Alex Gillett was 11-of-25 passing for 145 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 49 yards and a touchdown. Gillett spent most of the day scrambling and trying to avoid the Redbirds pass rush.
“I think he got unnerved early,” English said. “Their one rush end was up the field all the time. When he stepped up, he didn’t see guys open and I think he got unnerved and he started to try to do too much.
“We just have to get him back. He made a lot of progress in terms of being able to step up in the pocket and throw the ball.”
For the Redbirds, Darrelynn Dunn had 130 yards rushing on 32 carries. He also scored two touchdowns.
With road games coming up against Purdue and Michigan State, English and his team hoping to right the wrongs before they resume MAC conference play.
English did say he saw improvement in his team, especially on defense, but he also said that there is plenty of work to be done.
“What I have to do is keep the team together and continue to work and get us out of this thing. I’ve been here before; what’s happening to us is nothing new. It’s happened to many teams,” English said. “What you have to do is stay the course and keep fighting and keep getting them better and build their confidence and come out of it.”
The Eagles travel Purdue next Saturday for a noon kickoff.
Matt Durr covers sports for Annarbor.com. Follow him on twiiter @mdurr84. Contact via email at firstname.lastname@example.org