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Posted on Wed, Oct 28, 2009 : 4:18 p.m.

Struggling Eastern Michigan run defense strives to improve

By Jeff Arnold

Eastern Michigan enters Saturday's game against Arkansas with an interesting defensive profile. The Eagles lead the country in pass defense, allowing 124 yards per game, but rank last against the run, giving up 275 yards per game.

That distinction has caught the eye of Arkansas tailback Michael Smith, who told reporters in Fayetteville on Monday that Eastern Michigan's ranking as the nation's worst defense against the run should "make everyone's eyes light up."


Arkansas running back Dennis Johnson, left, is tackled by Mississippi's Marcus Tillman, bottom, and Johnny Brown on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009, in Oxford, Miss

AP photo

EMU coach Ron English doesn't disagree.

"They have to be thinking they're going to have career days," he said. "We just have to keep getting better and play with great intensity and emotion and make tackles."

Eastern Michigan (0-7) travels to Arkansas (3-4) on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPNU) hoping to leave last week's struggles against then-winless Ball State behind. In that game, a 29-27 loss, Eastern allowed 463 rushing yards and one passing yard.

English's players struggle to understand what has gone so wrong. Linebacker Andre' Hatchett, who made 11 tackles and registered a sack against Ball State said the failures to stop the run are getting tougher to deal with.

"It's hard when you give up so many yards," Hatchett said. "It's just so many yards. We just have to quit making mistakes and we have to find out where everyone fits on defense."

Making matters tougher for the Eagles this week is the added challenge of trying to keep Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett in check. Mallett, who began his college career at Michigan, has thrown for 1,900 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 271 passing yards per game.

English, who was on Michigan's staff when Mallett played for the Wolverines, says Mallett has the best arm he's seen.

After losing to Mississippi last weekend, the Razorbacks plan to use Saturday's homecoming game to re-establish themselves and move closer to bowl eligibility.

"We've got to be able to run and throw on them to get our confidence back in both areas. We have to be physical running the ball," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said at his weekly press conference Monday. "We have to execute our passing game. We need to be good in our protections, precise with our routes, and the quarterback being exactly on time and putting the ball exactly where it needs to be."

Despite Eastern Michigan's defensive struggles, Hatchett - Eastern Michigan's leading tackler - senses progress. Although Saturday's road trip into the Southeastern Conference may not be the occasion when everything comes together, Hatchett believes the Eagles are closer to where they need to be.

"All we can do is get better," Hatchett said. "It may not be this Saturday, it may not be next Saturday, but it's coming."

English, who said he doesn't expect to see his players quit or play with any fear on the road Saturday, also knows his defense is getting closer.

"We just need to keep working at it," English said Tuesday. "Of course it's embarrassing and it's frustrating and all those things, but our kids have good spirit and our coaches are coaching hard, and that's all I can ask for."

Jeff Arnold covers sports for He can be reached at 734-623-2554 or



Wed, Oct 28, 2009 : 4:32 p.m.

after this saturday, the fightin englishes will no longer have the best pass defense in the nation. Mallett probably throws for the first half.. for a defensive coach, this has got to be tough for english.